Nation

Trump chooses drug executive as health secretary

WASHINGTON — President Trump has tapped Alex M. Azar II, a former pharmaceutical executive and a top health official during the George W. Bush administration, to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

Azar, 50, served as president of Lilly USA, the biggest affiliate of Eli Lilly and Co., before stepping down in January to work as a health care consultant.

An establishment figure with a reputation as a conservative thinker and methodical lawyer, Azar would be expected to use his experience as HHS general counsel and deputy secretary to pursue Trump’s goals through executive action.

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In nominating him Monday morning, Trump tweeted, Azar ‘‘will be a star for better health care and lower drug prices!’’

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Azar has been highly critical of the Affordable Care Act, telling Fox Business in May that the law was ‘‘certainly circling the drain’’ and saying in a speech two months ago that many of its problems ‘‘were entirely predictable as a matter of economic and individual behavior.’’

In a June interview on Bloomberg Television, Azar made it clear he thought the administration could shift the ACA in a more conservative direction even if congressional Republicans failed to repeal much of it.

‘‘I'm not one to say many good things about Obamacare, but one of the nice things in it
is it does give tremendous amount of authority to the secretary of HHS,’’ he said.

He also supports converting Medicaid from an entitlement program covering everyone who is eligible into block grants, a long-standing GOP goal that has sparked opposition from Democrats and some centrist Republicans. And he has opposed expanding the program under the ACA to people with slightly higher incomes.

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The nominee boasts sterling conservative credentials, clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before working under special counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate Bill Clinton’s failed Whitewater real estate investments. Still, administration officials think he could work more deftly with competing health care interests and politicians than his predecessor, Tom Price.

Price did little to foster better relations between the administration and Capitol Hill despite his dozen years as a Georgia representative. He stepped down in September after revelations that he had racked up more than $1 million in expenses this year by making official trips on noncommercial aircraft.

As HHS general counsel, Azar worked on the administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing anthrax attacks, stem-cell policy and the advent of the Medicare prescription drug benefits.

He then served two years as deputy secretary, during which he pushed for greater disclosure of prices associated with medical services to help foster competition and contain costs. He also backed converting medical records to electronic form.