Turning to an industry he’s rebuked, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday picked a former top pharmaceutical and government executive to be his health secretary.
If confirmed, Alex Azar would oversee a $1-trillion department responsible for major health insurance programs, including Obamacare, as well as medical research, food and drug safety, and public health.
The nomination of Azar is unusual because U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretaries have come from the ranks of elected officials such as governors, leaders in academia and medicine, or top executive branch managers — not industries regulated by the department.
“He will be a star for better health care and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted in a morning announcement. Trump has a track record of making industry-friendly nominations, such as former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and wealthy investor Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce.
Trump has been a sharp critic of the industry. “The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder,” he said at a cabinet meeting this fall. Prices are “out of control,” he said.
In the spring, a Trump tweet sent drug stocks tumbling after the president said he was working on a new system that would foster competition and lead to much lower prices. In meetings with industry executives, however, Trump has focused on speeding up drug approvals, a cost-reducing tactic they would back.
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