New Leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services
On January 29, Alex Azar was sworn in as the new secretary for the U.S. Department of Health Human Services (HHS). He was confirmed by the Senate in a 55 to 43 vote, which included six Democrats voting in favor of his nomination. He replaces former HHS Secretary Tom Price, who resigned last year following a controversy surrounding taxpayer-funded use of private planes.
Secretary Azar is a lawyer and was previously an executive with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company. Prior to that, he served as deputy secretary and general counsel for HHS under the George W. Bush administration. Supporters of Azar’s nomination pointed to his experience in the health care industry and familiarity with HHS as key strengths to lead a department with 80,000 employees and a $1 trillion budget and that oversees Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health among other agencies and programs. Opponents of his nomination questioned his ability to address rising prescription drug prices given his prior role as a pharmaceutical executive, and raised concerns with his views on the Affordable Care Act and women’s health.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Azar outlined the following issues as his top priorities as HHS secretary: reining in prescription drug prices, ensuring affordable health care coverage options, continuing the shift towards value-based payment for health care, and addressing the opioid epidemic.