Alex Azar, Trump’s pick for HHS secretary, will face Senate Finance Committee scrutiny on Tuesday

Alex Azar
If confirmed, Azar will replace Tom Price, M.D., a former congressman who served as HHS secretary for seven months before he resignation over spending taxpayer money on chartered flights for government business. (Wwsgconnect)

Alex Azar will appear before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday morning for a confirmation hearing to consider his nomination to replace Tom Price, M.D., as the Department of Health and Human Services.

The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. and is expected to last several hours.

Azar, the former head of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operation, previously faced a Senate subcommittee for a courtesy hearing, but the Finance Committee will decide whether to move his nomination to the Senate floor.

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Despite concerns raised about his commitment to lower drug prices given his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, it appears as if he has the support of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. In the announcement for the hearing, Hatch said Azar has shown “he has what it takes to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and that he will tackle the challenges facing the American healthcare system head-on.”

The hearing, Hatch said, will give Finance Committee members a chance to hear from Azar about this plans for healthcare reform, Medicare and Medicaid.

Azar is already familiar with the inner workings of the HHS. He served as the general counsel for HHS from 2001 to 2005 and later became the deputy secretary under then-HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, a position he held for two years. And in both instances, he was confirmed for the HHS positions by a unanimous vote.

He also has the support of the Premier healthcare alliance, a group of 3,900 U.S. hospitals and health systems and approximately 150,000 other providers and organizations. In a letter (PDF) to Hatch and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, the alliance said it is confident Azar will lead HHS in implementing laws focused on achieving a more accountable and value-driven healthcare system.

Susan D. DeVore, president and CEO of Premier, said in the letter that the alliance worked with Azar when he previously was with HHS on the Hospital Quality Improvement Demonstration Project. It was the first national project to determine whether economic incentives drove improved quality of inpatient care. DeVore said he was also instrumental in working with members to test accountable care organizations and bundled payment models.

If confirmed, Azar will replace Price, a former congressman who served as the HHS secretary for seven months before resigning after a Politico investigation found he spent nearly $1 million money on chartered flights and military planes for government and personal trips.