Yesterday, the Senate confirmed former Bush-era Health and Human Services official Alex Azar as the new Secretary of HHS. He’s also the first former pharmaceutical company executive to run HHS, having formerly been president of a US division of Eli Lilly.
Azar will be in charge of implementing the “Affordable Care Act” (quotes quite deliberate, for obvious reasons), which President Trump, along with many other Republicans, was elected on a promise to repeal and replace. That gave Democrats an opening to attack, with Sen. Tim Kaine claiming that Trump’s opposition to Obamacare “has destabilized our health care system and threatened coverage for millions” (I think he might have Trump’s opposition confused with Obamacare itself) and that Azar might make it worse. Considering that the rise in the numbers of uninsured resulted from Americans fleeing Obamacare like it was Godzilla the second they were freed from being forced to buy into it, it’s hard to imagine how it could be made worse.
But Trump says that Azar has also been especially charged with lowering drug prices. Again, Democrats attacked, noting that when he ran Lilly US, several of the drugs they made went up in price. That is true. However, when he ran the company, keeping it in business and maximizing profits was a goal. In his new job, finding ways to lower prices while not endangering R&D or supply will be his goal.
Can he do that? That’s yet to be determined, but it will be a novelty to have someone in DC overseeing the pharmaceutical industry who has experience in the pharmaceutical industry. I have a feeling that if he fails at the job Trump has given him, he won’t be in the job long. And if he succeeds, maybe it will set a radical new precedent for appointing people to government positions who actually know something about the thing they’re put in charge of.