Trump to tap ex-pharma executive Azar as U.S. health secretary

Azar would replace former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who resigned in September amid criticism over private charter jets.

The South Portico of the White House is seen in Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Monday said he will nominate former pharmaceutical executive and industry lobbyist Alex Azar to serve as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, saying Azar would push to lower the price of medicines.

If confirmed, Azar also would take the lead in implementing Trump’s campaign promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care overhaul passed under former Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump, who was in the Philippines on a diplomatic trip, announced his intention to nominate Azar on Twitter by saying he would “be a star for better health care and lower drug prices.”

Azar’s nomination comes after Trump’s initial health secretary, former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, resigned in September amid criticism over his use of expensive taxpayer-funded private charter jets for government travel instead of cheaper commercial flights.

Democrats were cautious in their response to Trump’s announcement, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) calling for the health agency to turn over a new leaf with Azar.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has been working on bipartisan health care legislation, tweeted, “Given Alex Azar’s professional background, there are concerns on whether he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients & families.”

Republicans were supportive with Senate health committee head Lamar Alexander of Tennessee describing Azar as a qualified, experienced nominee.

Trump has said he plans to bring down “out-of-control” drug prices.

Azar worked at Eli Lilly for a decade, including five years as president of its USA affiliate Lilly USA unit, and left the company in January, according to his LinkedIn page.

Alex Azar is seen in his official U.S. Department of Health and Human Services portrait from his time serving as deputy HHS secretary during the administration of President George W. Bush in 2005.

He also served several years on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a drug industry lobbying group, and earlier was general counsel and deputy secretary for Health and Human Services under former Republican President George W. Bush.

In February, Azar founded a consulting agency that specialized in biopharmaceutical and health care companies, according to his LinkedIn page.

Patient advocacy organization Public Citizen said Azar has made it clear he is opposed to measures “to restrain prescription companies’ profiteering and limit improper marketing” and that he favors weaker safety approval standards.

As head of HHS, Azar would have oversight responsibility for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the drug industry including approving new treatments.

Azar’s nomination must be approved by the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.