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Former drug company executive confirmed as HHS secretary, with pledge to get drug prices down

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Senate gives nod to Trump nominee Alex Azar to lead Health and Human Services

Alex M. Azar, a former drug industry executive who pledged to find ways to get prescription drug prices down, was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Senate voted  55-43 Wednesday to confirm the 50-year-old Azar. Seven Democrats voted for his confirmation, while one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), opposed him.

Azar, a grandson of an immigrant from Lebanon and a graduate of Dartmouth and Yale Law School, served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He served under President George W. Bush as deputy secretary for the health and human services department and led the U.S. subsidiary of Eli Lilly.

His confirmation hearing in the Senate Finance Committee largely centered on two issues, according to the Washington Times: soaring drug prices and the fate of Obamacare. Azar said his knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry will make him an effective reformer. He wants to speed generics to market and make sure companies don’t game patents to shut out competition, the Times reported.

He also said that decisions the agency makes need to take into consideration conscience issues for Christians who don’t want to be forced to fund abortions.

Just last week, the department launched a new division that will investigate claims of discrimination against healthcare professionals on the basis of religious beliefs.

The Trump administration took steps in October to make it easier for employers to limit coverage of contraceptives in their employees’ health insurance plans. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) asked if Azar would commit to putting “science and health care access first,” rather than “ideology and extremism.”

“We have to balance a woman’s choice of insurance with the conscience of their employers,” Azar responded.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser praised his confirmation. “We congratulate Alex Azar on being confirmed as head of HHS,” she said in a statement. “He takes the reins at a time when major pro-life policy initiatives are being rolled out at this crucial department. Azar’s commitment to HHS’ mission ‘to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans,’ including unborn children and their mothers, is so encouraging. We are confident that he has the experience and enthusiasm to lead the way in implementing President Trump’s pro-life priorities.”

 

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