Azar Confirmed as HHS Secretary on a 55-43 Vote

On Wednesday, Alex Azar was confirmed as the next U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. Azar was confirmed on a 55-43 vote with all but one Republican, six Democrats, and one Independent senator voting in support of the appointee. HHS has been without a permanent leader for nearly four months after then-Secretary Tom Price resigned over failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and scrutiny of his use of private and military jets for travel.

Azar spent nearly a decade at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, where he most recently served as president of U.S. operations before leaving in 2017. Prior to this time at Eli Lilly, Azar served as the HHS General Counsel from 2001 to 2005 and the Deputy Secretary from 2005 to 2007 during the George W. Bush Administration.

As Azar’s confirmation was being considered by the U.S. Senate, several senators expressed concerns over Azar’s role in the Trump Administration’s continued threats to the ACA and Azar’s involvement in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly around rising prescription drug prices. Despite these concerns, Azar is generally regarded as a detail-oriented bureaucrat who has a deep understanding of the in-and-outs of administrative and regulatory systems.

In his new role, Azar has committed to reining in drug prices and making health care more affordable. However, reports suggest much of his focus will likely be on rebuilding internal morale within HHS, launching a listening tour within Capitol Hill to solicit policy ideas, and strengthening lines of communication with and between the various HHS entities. Acting Secretary Eric Hargan is expected to return to his role as HHS Deputy Secretary.