Trump to nominate former pharmaceutical executive to head Health and Human Services

Alex Azar served as deputy HHS secretary under Bush.

Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar meets reporters at the HHS Department in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2006. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar meets reporters at the HHS Department in Washington, Thursday, June 8, 2006. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Trump will nominate former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as his Health and Human Services secretary, the president tweeted Monday morning.

“Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary,” Trump tweeted. “He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

If he is confirmed, Azar will join the ranks of Trump cabinet secretaries who now regulate the industries in which they used to work.

Azar served as the deputy secretary of HHS during the George W. Bush presidency and then, from 2012 to January 2017, served as the president of Lilly USA, the largest affiliate of drug maker Eli Lilly. During his time at Lilly, Azar worked on public policy and international and federal government affairs.

He also served on the board of directors for BIO, a drug lobby, according to Politico.

Azar, if confirmed, will take the post following former HHS Secretary Tom Price’s resignation in September after a controversy over his use of chartered jets for government travel.

The nomination raises questions about how serious Trump is about regulating Azar’s former industry.

The president has talked tough about the pharmaceutical industry, saying in January that drug companies are “getting away with murder,” but he hasn’t pushed legislation that would allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices or otherwise bring down drug costs for consumers.

Notably, ties to big pharma recently sunk another Trump nominee. Trump nominated Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to serve as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, but Marino withdrew after a report revealed he had spearheaded a pharma-friendly bill that undermined the DEA’s ability to go after drug distributors.

In the Trump era, however, heading up agencies intended to regulate one’s former industry is the often the norm. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue worked in agriculture exports. Former investor and now Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and banker-turned-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were all confirmed to cabinet positions despite ties to their former industries.

But at least one nominee, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder, who was nominated to head up the labor department, was never confirmed, in part because of his ties to the industry and reputation as an anti-union and anti-worker executive.