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Trump Taps Former Pharma Exec To Be New Health Secretary

If confirmed by the Senate, the new HHS secretary would be in charge of overseeing Obamacare and regulating the industry he just worked in for a decade.

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President Trump announced via tweet Monday that he is nominating former Bush administration official and pharma executive Alex Azar to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services.

Azar would replace Tom Price, who resigned in September after Trump said he was not happy about Price repeatedly taking expensive, taxpayer-funded flights.

Azar previously worked at HHS for six years during the Bush administration, first as general counsel and then for two years as deputy secretary from 2005–07. He then went to work for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications. He worked at Eli Lilly for a decade, including running its largest affiliate, Lilly USA, LLC.

Azar has been a critic of Obamacare, which he would be in charge of overseeing as HHS secretary. In May he described Obamacare as “a fundamentally broken system” and said it was “circling the drain.” He also said President Obama’s expansion of Medicaid has not been successful.

The nomination comes at a key time for Obamacare, with open enrollment now underway. The Trump administration has already slashed advertising for enrollment by 90%, cut the open enrollment period in half, cut off Obamacare subsidies, and made it easier for healthy people to leave the individual markets.

But despite what some see as an active attempt to sabotage Obamacare, enrollment so far this year has been strong. Open enrollment started at the beginning of November, and just over 600,000 people signed up for coverage in the first four days. That is a significant jump over last year, and while it’s too early to draw solid conclusions, so far the data matches with projections that Obamacare is not in the midst of collapse, as Republicans claim.

Azar would also be heavily involved with his former industry on the issue of prescription drug costs. The Trump administration has declared lowering drug costs a priority. Trump previously appointed former drug industry lobbyist Joe Grogan to lead the administration’s task force on drug prices. So far that group’s proposed solutions have echoed proposals from the pharmaceutical industry.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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