Senate Committee Approves Alex Azar to Head HHS

Alicia Ault

January 17, 2018

The US Senate Finance Committee voted 15-12 to approve the nomination of Alex Azar to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Only one Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, assented to Azar's nomination, joining the panel's Republicans. The committee vote sets up a vote in the full Senate.

Although several Senate Democrats have indicated they will vote against Azar, it is still likely that he will be confirmed. Two Democrats ― Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Manchin (WV) ― have said they will support Azar. Nominees for cabinet positions require only 51 votes to be confirmed ― and Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Alex Azar testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Jan. 9, 2018. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Azar, a former executive for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, was nominated to lead HHS by President Donald J. Trump in November. He was the department's general counsel from 2001 to 2005 and its deputy secretary from 2005 to 2007 during the George W. Bush administration.

The nominee was questioned at length in two recent Senate hearings, with Democrats focusing on whether he will work to lower drug prices, given his industry background. Other Democrats questioned his commitment to keeping the Medicaid program as is and if he would work to support the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans at the committee meetings supported Azar, noting his lengthy government experience.

Azar said he would work to lower drug prices and that he favored more flexibility for states to determine what was best for their Medicaid programs.

HHS is now led by Acting Secretary Don Wright, MD, MPH. He took over in September after orthopedic surgeon Tom Price, MD, resigned while facing intense criticism and scrutiny for taking government trips on charter and military aircraft when less expensive commercial flights were available.

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