Senate Confirms Alex Azar to Serve as HHS Secretary

Alex Azar

Former pharma executive Alex Azar's official new title secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

The Senate confirmed former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar as the next Health and Human Services secretary Wednesday with a 55-43 vote, despite opposition from most Democrats.

Azar's confirmation came nearly four months after former secretary Tom Price resigned over his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights.

The confirmation vote was taken after the Senate voted Tuesday to advance his nomination.

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Azar's position on reproductive health issues is relevant amid actions recently taken by HHS and the Trump Administration that critics say limit women's access to contraception options and abortion.

He also said in the confirmation hearing, he wants to increase generic and branded competition, as well as stop drug companies from abusing the patent system to prevent generic competitors.

When announcing Azar's nomination in November, U.S. President Donald Trump praised him as "a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices". Many Democrats opposed his nomination from the beginning, noting his ties to the pharmaceutical industry and questioning whether he would be committed to lowering drug prices. "And I am alarmed that he might not stand up to President Trump's agenda driven by sabotage and ideology". Price had been an important player in Trump's ill-fated campaign to roll back President Barack Obama's health law, an effort that fell far short of the full "repeal and replace" Republicans long promised.

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Azar previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and served as HHS's deputy secretary in Bush's administration.

Azar has unique qualifications because he has already worked at HHS. "Mr. Azar, however, has been a harsh critic of the ACA and once called it a 'fundamentally broken system.' As physicians, we seek to preserve gains brought by the ACA for Americans, and we are concerned Mr. Azar does not has those same interests in mind". Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "I think that broad expertise will serve him well, particularly at this critical time when the HHS secretary will need to be intensely focused on the opioid epidemic and other major problems facing our country".

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the nomination. By contrast, he had received unanimous Senate support when he was nominated to serve as the department's general counsel in 2001, and then as the agency's No. 2 official in 2005.

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