The Senate voted 55-43 on Wednesday to confirm Alex Azar as the next secretary of HHS. The agency had been headed on an interim basis by Deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan and before that by Don Wright, following the abrupt resignation of Tom Price last September. Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive who has established a reputation as a pragmatic leader, is expected to focus his attention at drug pricing issues over the coming year, in addition to ongoing issues over healthcare reform. NAHU identified the rising cost of pharmaceutical products as a major contributor to the rising cost of healthcare and health insurance, and has called for cost-containment measures to reduce the impact of drug costs on the price of care.
Azar’s experience crosses both the public and private sectors, and most recently spent nearly a decade serving as president of U.S. operations at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Prior to that, he served for six years at HHS as general counsel and deputy secretary in the George W. Bush Administration, where he led efforts in pharmaceutical and medical device innovation. His experience also includes clerking for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from 1992-93 and serving in an advisory capacity to several political campaigns, including Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run as well as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz’s campaigns in 2016.
The vote to confirm Azar fell largely along party lines, although several Democrats crossed the aisle in support to allow for his nomination to be approved. Republicans Senators Bob Corker (TN) and John McCain (AZ) were not present to vote, and Senator Rand Paul (KY) opposed Azar’s nomination, leaving only 48 Republicans in support and short of the 50 votes needed to confirm. However, seven Democrats ultimately crossed the aisle and voted to approve: Tom Carper (DE), Chris Coons (DE), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Angus King (ME), Doug Jones (AL) and Joe Manchin (WV).
NAHU looks forward to working with Azar in his new role, along with the many other Trump appointees and career staff at HHS with whom we have built relationships. We will continue these efforts to make regulatory changes to improve the law for agents, brokers, employers and individuals.