Former Lilly President to Head US Health Department

14.11.2017 -

US president, Donald Trump, has chosen Alex Azar, a former US president of drugmaker Eli Lilly, as his new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar will replace Tom Price, a former Congressman from Georgia, who was forced to resign amid several financial scandals.

Press reports said Azar, who left Lilly in an executive shakeup at the company earlier this year, was chosen over Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Gottlieb, however, is also said to have wanted to stay at the FDA.

Commentators said the nomination of a pharma insider – Trump’s pick must still be approved by Congress – could be crucial to the government’s understanding of issues ranging from drug pricing to federal investigations.

As head of HHS, Azar, who previously served as Deputy Secretary of the department under former president, George W. Bush, will be in charge of accelerating the Republican party’s ongoing drive to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which helps enable previously uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage.

Theoretically, the new secretary’s brief could also include negotiating discounts on drug prices for Medicare, the federal healthcare program for the elderly – provided the president decides to revive this issue he is seen to have largely dropped.

In his first meeting with pharmaceutical executives after taking office in January of this year, Trump accused the industry of "getting away with murder" as regards prices. However, the pricing question may not be a big issue going forward, reports suggest. Gottlieb is credited with moves toward increasing competition and dampening the price momentum as well as speeding up the FDA's approval process.

Nevertheless, Ron Wyden, a Democrat from the state of Oregon and ranking member of the US Senate finance committee, commented that he would ask Azar to take "take decisive, meaningful action to curtail the runaway train of prescription drug costs." What is being called an opioid epidemic is another issue contributing to the health discussion in the US, along with a wide-sweeping price-fixing probe in the generics market.