Trump leaning toward former pharma exec for health secretary

President Donald Trump is leaning toward nominating Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and George W. Bush administration official, to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, according to two White House officials. If chosen, Azar would replace Georgia Republican Tom Price, who resigned in September after POLITICO reported that he spent more than $ 1 million in taxpayer money on private and government planes for travel. Story Continued Below One official said Trump had signed off on Azar, but another cautioned that the pick wouldn’t be final until the White House makes a formal announcement. A third Trump administration official confirmed that Azar has been shortlisted for the job. Other contenders long seen as top candidates for the job — including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb — are no longer under consideration, according to multiple sources. Neither Azar nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. Azar is a veteran of HHS. He served as the department’s general counsel and deputy secretary during the Bush administration. While at the department, he worked closely with Eric Hargan, who was confirmed earlier this month as Trump’s deputy HHS secretary and has been acting secretary since Price’s Sept. 29 departure. Azar has spent most of the past decade inside the drug industry, one of the key sectors he’ll regulate at HHS. Azar joined pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company in June 2007 as a senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications right after leaving the Bush administration. He rose to head Lilly’s U.S. operations in 2012, a position he held until this January, when he left the company. At Lilly he worked on both international and federal government affairs and public policy. Other areas of focus included counterfeit medicines and health information technology. As part of his role at Lilly, Azar served as a board of directors for BIO, a drug lobby. Azar has called on the insurance and drug industries to work together to lower drug prices. “We have a problem,” he said during remarks at a May conference in Philadelphia. “Patients are paying too much for drugs.” He has also been a harsh critic of Obamacare and cheered GOP efforts to repeal and replace it, telling Fox Business in May that the Obamacare is “fundamentally broken” and “circling the drain.” Azar emerged as a strong backer of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Republican presidential campaign in 2016, serving on Bush’s 30-member Indiana steering committee in the lead-up to the election. Azar knows Vice President Mike Pence from his time at Lilly, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. During a January roundtable of health care experts, Azar offered a strong defense of the state’s experiment with HSA-like accounts for the poor – part of a program developed by Pence and CMS Administrator Seema Verma in 2015. Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

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