President Donald Trump on Monday morning announced via Twitter his intention to nominate Alex Azar, former president at Eli Lilly and deputy HHS secretary under President George W. Bush, to be the next HHS secretary.
If confirmed by the Senate, Azar would step into a cabinet position left vacant after Tom Price resigned following numerous questions related to his use of private jets and their mounting cost to the US taxpayer.
"He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices," Trump wrote.
But how Azar, a graduate of Yale Law School and former board member of industry group BIO, would lower drug prices remains to be understood. And perhaps his confirmation hearing will test him on what his plan will be.
Former CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt said in a statement Monday: "We must have a focus on affordability, including of drug costs, where Alex has considerable experience. Alex should explain his philosophy in these areas, including his willingness to make the tough decisions required to get drug costs under control."
Back in 2004, Azar pushed back against the idea of using pharmaceutical imports or the Bayh-Dole Act to lower drug prices, according to a transcript of a meeting from the California State Board of Pharmacy.
In 2014, Azar spoke at MIT and said having a "narrow focus on the cost of medicine at the exclusion of innovation would be self-defeating." He also said that the regulatory approval system for new drugs is outdated and that payers, both public and private, set an "unrealistically high bar for new innovations to clear."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said in a statement on Monday that she would press Azar, given his professional background, on how "he believes he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients."
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered his support for the Azar nomination on Monday, saying he would work to "right the wrongs of this deeply flawed law [Obamacare] but also ensure the long-term sustainability of both Medicare and Medicaid."