The Trump administration revealed the next Secretary of Health and Human Services, to replace ousted Secretary Tom Price. Former George W Bush appointee and industry insider Alex Azar is the most recent swamp creature to emerge from the MAGA train.
Alex Azar appears to clearly be an establishment choice with his past experience including serving as General Counsel for HHS before becoming the Deputy Secretary under President George W. Bush. Prior to those postings, he was known as an Associate Independent Counsel for Ken Starr, investigating the Whitewater controversy during Bill Clinton’s presidency. More recently, Azar served in many roles with Eli Lilly and Company, an international pharmaceutical company, where as President of Lilly USA, he oversaw the substantial rise in drug prices while simultaneously serving on the board for the world’s largest pharmaceutical lobby, Biotechnology Innovation Organization. He currently holds a Director position on the the Board for HMS Holdings Corp., a publicly traded company that offers services meant to coordinate healthcare claims payments. Interestingly, a day after the previous HHS Secretary, Tom Price, resigned, Alex Azar exercised an insider option to purchase shares in HMS Holdings, bringing his publicly known total of shares in the company to over 17,000 with a current market value over $255,000 in a company with a market cap of over $1.3 billion. It will be interesting to see if Azar attempts to unravel his personal holdings prior to confirmation hearings, or go the route that Trump and many of his other Cabinet picks have and just ignore the norm of divestiture for public service.
The resignation of Tom Price was seen as politically expedient after his spurious usage of private and government aircraft over commercial planes caused an uproar and instigated investigations into the wasteful practice. With the Alex Azar pick, Donald Trump is choosing someone with experience in both the industry in general and the agency in particular he is meant to lead. What Trump’s rabid base of followers will think about this pick remains to be seen. For those opposed to the path Trump has been taking Health and Human Services, Alex Azar symbolizes yet another attack on the progress made by the Affordable Care Act with his policy preferences aimed at undercutting and reversing many of the ACA’s provisions.