Senate panel advances Trump’s nominee for Health secretary
The Senate Finance Committee voted largely along party lines to advance Alex Azar’s nomination to helm the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
His nomination will now head to a what appears to be an easy confirmation vote on the floor before the full Senate.
All Republicans voted in favor of Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and HHS appointee, while Sen. Tom Carper (Del.) was the only Democrat to support Azar’s nomination in the 15 to 12 committee vote.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the lone Republican to have expressed concerns with Azar’s nomination, stemming from the lack of an endorsement from Azar for allowing drugs to be imported from overseas.
Many Democrats have said they fear Azar would take actions harmful to ObamaCare in office and do little to rein in the cost of prescription drugs, among other concerns. Still, at least two senators hailing from red states — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) — have said they would vote to confirm Azar.
In confirmation hearings, Democrats quizzed Azar on his nearly 10 years as a pharmaceutical executive, most recently serving as president of Lilly USA until January 2017. They said the price of several drugs more than doubled under his leadership and asked how Azar would work to curb this trend.
In Azar’s confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the Finance Committee’s top Democrat, asked Azar if he ever lowered the price of a Lilly drug in the United States.
Azar responded: “I don’t know that there is any drug price of a branded product that has ever gone down from any company on any drug in the United States because every incentive in this system is toward higher prices,” Azar said.
“And that is where we can do things together working as the government to get at this. No one company is going to fix that system, that’s why I want to be here working with you.”
On Wednesday, Wyden announced his opposition to Azar’s nomination.
Republicans say that Azar’s work in the pharmaceutical industry is an asset because he already knows the ins and outs of this complex industry and will, thus, be able to determine what policies could be effective while at HHS.
“By any objective account, Mr. Azar is very well qualified for this important position. He has close to two decades of experience, the right expertise, and sound judgment,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
If confirmed, Azar will be returning to his old stomping grounds. He served at HHS under President George W. Bush, first as general counsel from 2001 to 2005 and then as deputy secretary for two years.
His former colleagues say he has a deep understanding of the regulatory process, which could prove important going forward. It’s increasingly unlikely Republicans will return to repealing the health-care law, so the White House may aim to alter ObamaCare administratively.
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