President Donald Trump's pick for health secretary will be an administrator in the "best sense" and knows how to navigate regulations and legal requirements, according to a former colleague.
Nominee Alex Azar, who until recently was a senior executive at Eli Lilly, was deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President George W. Bush. He also was the department's general counsel.
Some observers say the appointment of Azar represents a pivot by the administration after the resignation of Tom Price, the former congressman who was tapped in part to help usher in radical changes to health care legislation.
"(Azar) is an administrator in the very best sense," Tevi Troy, CEO of the American Health Policy Institute, told Patient Daily. "The administration wants to move things along, and he is someone who knows the regulatory processes. It makes sense."
Azar would have his work cut out managing the vast health department bureaucracy, particularly with the added provisions within the Affordable Care Act, many of which contain the words, "the secretary shall," Troy noted.
Troy was in the White House during Bush's second term but worked closely with Azar when he was at HHS. The policy analyst succeeded Azar as deputy health secretary.
Former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt told the news site Axios that Azar is a health policy expert.
"We worked side-by-side on the implementation of Medicare Part D, pandemic preparedness, and Hurricane Katrina recovery," Leavitt said. "He is an expert on health policy and HHS operations, as well as a skilled manager. Because he knows the department so well, there may never be a HHS secretary better able to hit the ground running than Alex Azar."
Troy is confident Azar will be confirmed.
Although the announcement of Azar's nomination initially provoked little comment beyond comparisons with Tom Price and what he might bring to the job, recent reports suggest he may face tough questions during the confirmation process.
The Associated Press reported that Azar oversaw Eli Lilly’s lobbying for two years when the pharmaceutical firm was under investigation by the Justice Department for improperly marketing a medication used for schizophrenia.
In January 2009, the Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly settled with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay $1.4 billion to the government and several states for improper marketing of Zyprexa, the news agency reported.