Alex Azar sworn in as head of HHS as Trump promises industry relief from high drug prices

President Donald Trump predicted that prescription drug prices will “come rocketing down” now that Alex Azar is taking over as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trump made the remarks Monday during the swearing-in ceremony for Azar, the second to serve as the head of HHS under the Trump administration. Azar replaces Tom Price, M.D., who resigned in late September in the wake of controversy over his use of private planes for government business travel.

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The Senate confirmed Azar’s nomination last week, but the vote fell primarily across party lines. Many Democratic senators opposed the nomination due to Azar’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry and the fact that prices for several drugs manufactured by Eli Lilly doubled under his leadership. For the last decade, Azar served as head of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations.

But Trump said that Azar will lead the charge to reduce prescription drug prices and will “unravel the tangled web of special interests that are driving prices up for medicine and for really hurting patients.”

He said that reducing the cost for these drugs is a top priority and he will ask Azar about its progress whenever they speak.

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Trump also said Azar was the right person to take over the post because he has worked for HHS in the past, first as general counsel for the department from 2001 to 2005 and then as deputy secretary under then-HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. In both roles, Trump said Azar was outstanding and an incredible public servant.

“People talk about him to this day.  He was instrumental in improving the department’s operations and advancing its emergency response capabilities,” Trump said.

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In his new role, Azar will continue to implement the Trump administrations move to roll back regulations. Trump said he will also lead efforts to confront the national emergency of addiction and death due to opioids.

Azar called it an honor to serve as the HHS secretary, noting that only in America could the grandchild and great grandchild of immigrants from Lebanon, from the Ukraine, from England, Switzerland, get to have such an opportunity. His remarks were notable considering the White House's stance on immigration and the current debate on the protection status of "dreamers"—young immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents without proper documentation. 

Azar said he is committed to the charge of tackling the opioid crisis and bringing down prescription drug prices. “I look forward to that mission, to the work ahead, and now it’s time to get to work,” he said.

For the full remarks made during the swearing-in ceremony, see the video below (starts at the 34-minute mark).