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Trump picks former drug company executive as his 2nd Health and Human Services secretary

Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- In a tweet from Manila, President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he will nominate Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and health care official during the Bush administration, to be his new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

If confirmed by the Senate, Azar would replace Tom Price, who resigned as secretary under pressure on Sept. 29 after a series of stories in Politico documented his repeated use of private jets and government aircraft instead of commercial planes, at a cost of more than $400,000. Investigations into Price's actions are ongoing.

Price, a Republican who represented a Georgia district in Congress before he was named to the Cabinet, also presided over the failure of the president's effort to make good on a campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

The nomination of Azar represents a shift for Trump, who in his Cabinet picks to date often has not selected candidates with experience in the department they would oversee.

Azar served as deputy secretary of HHS from 2005-2007, in the second term of President George W. Bush. He later served at the drug firm Eli Lilly as director of managed care and, from 2012 to early this year, as president.

In announcing the appointment, Trump suggested that Azar's tenure at the drug company would give him insight into how to trim prescription costs, historically a major health care complaint.

"Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary," Trump said. "He will be a star for better health care and lower drug prices!"

Democrats on the committees that will oversee Azar's nomination seized on his years at Lilly with skepticism.

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee that will vet the nominee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he will ask for Azar's "commitment to faithfully implement the Affordable Care Act and take decisive, meaningful action to curtail the runaway train of prescription drug costs."

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top-ranking Democrat on the health committee, used the nomination of Azar to blast the man he would replace. She said Price "sabotaged families' coverage, tried time after time to jam Trumpcare through Congress, eroded women's access to reproductive care, and more."

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