WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he will nominate former pharmaceutical executive and industry lobbyist Alex Azar to serve as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, saying Azar would push to lower the price of medicines.
If confirmed, Azar also would take the lead in implementing Trump’s campaign promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 healthcare overhaul passed under former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump, who is in the Philippines on a diplomatic trip, announced his intention to nominate Azar on Twitter by saying he would “be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices.”
Azar’s nomination comes after Trump’s initial health secretary, former U.S. Representative Tom Price, resigned in September amid criticism over his use of expensive taxpayer-funded private charter jets for government travel instead of cheaper commercial flights.
Democrats were cautious in their response to Trump’s announcement with Senator Chuck Schumer calling for the health agency to turn over a new leaf with Azar.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who has been working on bipartisan healthcare legislation, tweeted, “Given Alex Azar’s professional background, there are concerns on whether he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients & families.”
Republicans were supportive with Senate health committee head Lamar Alexander of Tennessee describing Azar as a qualified, experienced nominee.
Trump has said he plans to bring down “out-of-control” drug prices.
Azar worked at Eli Lilly (LLY.N) for a decade, including five years as president of its USA affiliate Lilly USA unit, and left the company in January, according to his LinkedIn page.
He also served several years on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a drug industry lobbying group, and earlier was general counsel and deputy secretary for Health and Human Services under former Republican President George W. Bush.
In February, Azar founded a consulting agency that specialized in biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies, his LinkedIn page said.
Patient advocacy organization Public Citizen said Azar has made it clear he is opposed to measures “to restrain prescription companies’ profiteering and limit improper marketing” and that he favors weaker safety approval standards.
As head of HHS, Azar would have oversight responsibility for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the drug industry including approving new treatments.
Azar’s nomination must be approved by the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Caroline Humer and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott