Meet Trump’s Reported Top Choice for Health and Human Services Secretary (Updated)

Trump reportedly may tap a former pharmaceutical company executive for the post who worked at HHS under George W. Bush and has given extensively to Republican candidates for office.

Azar worked from 2001 to 2007 at the HHS under the Bush administration, first as general counsel and later as its deputy secretary. Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE, November 13, 10:13 a.m.: President Trump on Monday morning tweeted that he has nominated Alex Azar to head the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Alex Azar, whose resume includes stints as a pharmaceutical executive, working in George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is reportedly being considered by the Trump administration to lead HHS.

Trump “is leaning towards” nominating Azar to replace Tom Price after the HHS secretary resigned last monthaccording to a Tuesday report from Politico.

Azar worked from 2001 to 2007 at HHS under the Bush administration, first as general counsel and later as its deputy secretary. During his tenure at the agency, Azar worked on stem-cell research policy, among other areas. After departing HHS, Azar moved to pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company from 2007 until January 2017, the last five years of which he spent as president of its U.S. affiliate, Lilly USA, LLC.

Lilly and Company is listed as a corporate sponsor of Population Services International (PSI), whose work includes training abortion providers and providing supplies for medical abortions. The pharmaceutical company worked with PSI on its diabetes prevention and management program in India. Lilly and Company’s CEO also signed onto a 2015 letter opposing then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s signature religious imposition law, which gave businesses the green light to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The company also gave money to the Republican Governors Association.

Data accessed through the National Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that Azar has donated to Vice President Mike Pence’s campaigns, including a $2,950 donation to his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, $1,000 to his gubernatorial re-election efforts in 2016 prior to becoming the nominee for vice president, and another $500 to Pence’s successful 2010 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pence is hardly the only Republican to have received campaign funds from Azar. In July 2016, he gave $2,700 to the Trump Victory fund, a joint fundraising venture between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, campaign finance records show. Other members of the party who have received donations from Azar include former U.S. senator and current Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Sens. Todd Young (IN), Mitch McConnell (KY), and Orrin Hatch (UT), along with failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

Azar didn’t just support Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign financially, he served on his campaign’s Indiana steering committee, according to a report from the Indy Star. Bush was a vocal opponent of abortion rights and repeatedly pushed his anti-choice record as Florida governor. He told the Associated Press in January 2016 that he would like to see Roe. v. Wade overturned and vowed to expand funding for anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers if elected—something he did in his home state.

Health Care in Azar’s Own Words

In a video published on YouTube by the Zetema Project, a group of health-care stakeholders that meet to discuss the industry, Alzar spoke positively of block granting Medicaid. “I think there’s a lot to commend a block grant approach because the states are the laboratory for experimentation,” he says. “Block granting really says … ‘Here’s an amount of money, you figure out the best way to provide insurance to those who are unable to afford it in your state.’ It makes them better stewards of the money. It becomes their money again to make the choices.”

But converting Medicaid to block grants “would do irreparable damage to the safety net at a time when demand for publicly funded family planning continues to grow,” Audrey Sandusky, the director of advocacy and communications at the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, told Rewire in March. The increased flexibility given to states through block grants could also open the door for some to restrict access to certain kinds of reproductive health care and restrict access to some providers. It could also hamper states’ ability to deal with public health crises and economic downturns by capping how much the government allots to states annually.

Though Medicaid expansion has drastically improved access to health care for people with low incomes, in another video for the Zetema Project, Azar said he didn’t believe that the expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had been successful though he did not say why. Instead, he said, expansion efforts should have instead “chosen vehicles that actually harnessed the private sector.”

An analysis from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released last month overviewing findings from 153 studies on Medicaid expansion found that, “the large body of research on the effects of Medicaid expansion under the ACA suggests that expansion has had largely positive impacts on coverage; access to care, utilization, and affordability; and economic outcomes, including impacts on state budgets, uncompensated care costs for hospitals and clinics, and employment and the labor market.”

Azar, since departing from Lilly, has appeared on Fox Business Network to discuss health care. When Congressional Republicans continued their efforts to repeal the ACA despite warnings from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the House version of the bill could leave as many as 23 million more people uninsured, Azar defended the legislation during a July appearance on Fox Business Network and claimed it would leave the country “better than where we are under Obamacare now.”

During the interview, he chided Republicans for not speaking enough about what he called the “benefits” of the legislation and joined the conservative media network in its crusade to cast doubt on the nonpartisan CBO. Though Fox News host Stuart Varney and Azar alluded to the GOP talking point that CBO estimates for the ACA were off, as media watchdog Media Matters for America noted in March, “According to an independent analysis of the CBO’s Affordable Care Act estimates from the Commonwealth Fund, the office’s health care policy analysis regarding the ACA actually ‘proved to be reasonably accurate’ and was thrown off by Supreme Court decisions and GOP political obstruction that it had no way to forecast.”

Azar appeared in July on Neil Cavuto’s Fox show, when he discussed what then-HHS Secretary Price could legally do to address problems with the ACA. He said that if he were head of HHS, he would “grant waivers to states to create much more flexibility in his exchanges.”

“I would do a top to bottom comprehensive rewrite of the regulations of Obamacare, imposing as much free market, localized flexibility as humanly possible,” said Azar.

Azar also appeared on the network’s Mornings with Maria program in June. He confirmed that he had been at the White House that week and had discussed ACA repeal efforts with Pence, according to transcript of the segment.