January 24, 2018 / 7:49 PM / 7 months ago

Senate votes to confirm Azar as health secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm former pharmaceutical industry executive and lobbyist Alex Azar as the next Health and Human Services secretary.

Alex Azar II prepares to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary in Washington, U.S., January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Azar will oversee the Trump administration’s response to the opioid epidemic, its efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, and address rising prescription drug prices. The Senate voted 55-43 in favor of his nomination.

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Most Democrats opposed Azar’s nomination, and several delivered impassioned speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday that criticized Azar for raising drug prices while he was at U.S. pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co (LLY.N), where he spent five years as president of its U.S. unit. Several patient and consumer advocacy groups opposed Azar’s nomination because of drug price increases at Lilly under his watch.

“Mr. Azar’s nomination is a perfect encapsulation of the president’s broken promises on prescription drugs and healthcare overall,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said on Tuesday in a Senate floor speech.

Republicans and some medical groups said Azar, who also served as general counsel and deputy secretary for Health and Human Services under former Republican President George W. Bush, had extensive qualifications for the job.

Trump’s first health secretary, former U.S. Representative Tom Price, resigned in September amid a furor over his use of expensive taxpayer-funded private charter jets for government travel.

Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Susan Thomas

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