Capitol Correspondence - 11.20.17

President Trump Announces Nomination for Secretary of HHS– Alex Azar

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On November 13, 2017 President Trump announced the nomination of Mr. Alex Azar for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing on his nomination on November 29 – this link will show live video at that time. The HELP Committee hearing is a courtesy hearing; the Committee that votes on his nomination, the Senate Finance Committee, has yet to schedule their hearing.

Please see below for insights on Alex Azar from ANCOR’s lobbyists at ML Strategies:

“Azar, 50, began his career in Washington as a law clerk for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before moving to the Office of the Independent Counsel under Ken Starr during the Whitewater investigation in 1994. He joined the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2001 as General Counsel, serving in that role until 2005. During his time as General Counsel, he worked with the Department to declare and implement the first public health service emergency in response to the September 11th attacks. He was also involved in the development and implementation of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

When he became Deputy Secretary of HHS under Secretary Mike Leavitt, he was tasked with overseeing the department’s regulatory process, an area of health care where he has received high marks for his knowledge and experience. Azar left HHS in early 2007 to join Eli Lilly and Company as a Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications, and ultimately became President of Lilly USA, the largest subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company, serving as President for five years until January 2017. With its corporate headquarters in Indiana, Azar has a connection to Vice President Mike Pence as Governor and CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who helped develop the Healthy Indiana Plan.

Azar founded his own consulting firm, Seraphim Strategies, this year. Seraphim Strategies provides services surrounding the biopharmaceutical and health insurance industries, specifically biopharmaceutical sales, marketing, reimbursement, access, and distribution as it relates to federal and state health care policy.

We can expect a significant shift in policy direction as we move from Secretary Price to Secretary Azar. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, had the goal and mission to take on the physician versus government’s role in health care delivery. Specifically, Price was looking for ways to reduce the burden to providers and limit any interference in doctors’ decision making abilities. Although we do not know Azar’s exact objectives for HHS, it is fairly certain that he does not have the same mission as Price. Given his regulatory background, we could see added emphasis in such health care issues as MACRA implementation, electronic health records, the role of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), and other areas which will carry significance both nationally and at the state level.  

With Azar at the helm of HHS and Joe Grogan, the Associate Director of Health Policy Programs at OMB (another PhRMA alumni formerly of Amgen and Gilead), PhRMA is situated to be very well protected. However, it remains to be seen how PhRMA friendly the administration will become.  Expectations of this administration being ‘mean’ to PhRMA should remain low. Despite the President’s tweets…

It remains unclear how significant staff turnover will be with this transition.  Many of the health care political appointees were former Price staffers.  While some may have relationships with Azar given his significant Washington experience, Azar may want to bring in staff of his own.”

ANCOR will inform members on issues and statements of interest which may arise during the nomination hearing once it has occurred.