Senate panel votes to advance Alex Azar nomination as Health and Human Services secretary

Alex Azar
The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-12 to move Alex Azar’s nomination to the full Senate. The 12 no votes all came from Democratic senators. (Wwsgconnect)

The Senate Finance Committee voted Wednesday to advance the nomination of Alex Azar as secretary of Health and Human Services.

The committee voted (PDF) 15-12 to move Azar’s nomination to the full Senate. The 12 no votes all came from Democratic senators. Tom Carper, D-Del., was the only Democrat to vote in favor of advancing his nomination.

Azar, the former head of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, needs a majority vote in the full Senate to receive final confirmation. Republicans control 51 of the 100 seats in the Senate.

RELATED: HHS secretary nominee Alex Azar tells Senate panel that reducing drug prices would be his top priority

Only one Republican senator has expressed concern with Azar’s nomination. During a courtesy confirmation hearing in November, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he was not convinced that Azar would represent the American people and not big pharma.

During that hearing, Paul asked Azar about his opposition to allowing consumers to purchase imported and safe drugs from Europe and Canada, a position that President Donald Trump supports. Azar said he would support the purchase of imported medications that were reliable and safe. Paul said he wanted Azar to tell him why the drugs in the European Union aren’t safe and how he’d make them safe. “If you can’t do that, I can’t support you,” Paul said.

RELATED: Senators grill HHS secretary nominee Alex Azar on drug prices, Affordable Care Act at confirmation hearing

Democrats have also questioned Azar’s ties to the pharma industry and wonder how committed he is to reducing drug prices when the cost of several drugs manufactured by Eli Lilly more than doubled under his watch.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said on Wednesday that Azar has the credentials to lead the department. “He continues to demonstrate that he has what it takes to help alleviate problems caused by Obamacare all while bolstering and improving Medicare and Medicaid. I look forward to his swift passage by the full U.S. Senate.”  

RELATED: 10 things to know about former pharma executive Alex Azar, Trump’s pick for HHS secretary

The full Senate vote has not been scheduled, but Politico reports that Republicans hope the confirmation will take place by the end of January.

If confirmed, Azar will fill the role vacated by Tom Price, M.D., who resigned in late September after a Politico investigation revealed he spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money on private planes and military jets for government business. Price, a former congressman, was recently named to the advisory board of Jackson Healthcare.