Trump turns to drug industry for his new health secretary

President Donald Trump on Monday nominated former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a vacancy left by ousted chief Tom Price.

On Twitter on Monday, Trump announced the nomination of Alex Azar, who until January had served as president of the USA arm of Eli Lilly & Co., based in Indianapolis. Mr. Trump said Mr. Azar would be "a star and lower drug prices!"

The nomination comes two months after former HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned due to a private plane scandal.

Price resigned in September after reports that he incurred $1 million on costs using government-owned jets for travel.

The White House just named Alex Azar as its new nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The nomination of Alex Azar is unusual because HHS secretaries have tended to come from the ranks of elected officials such as governors, leaders in academia, or top executive branch managers - not industries regulated by the department.

Azar served at HHS when Bush was in power in the year 2001 as general counsel. A lawyer by training, Azar previously clerked for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., flagged a potential conflict of interest, questioning how Azar "can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients".

Other names that have been floated to replace Price include Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

Azar's Senate confirmation could be hard, with the chamber's 48 Democrats unlikely to approve a candidate who supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Trump and Congressional Republicans have called to repeal the health law, and the administration has taken steps to destabilize it, such as cutting funding for some programs and refusing to pay subsidies to health insurers.

In October Trump also signed an executive order that would weaken Obamacare by making it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans.

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