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Trump taps former pharmaceutical industry executive to lead HHS

After railing for months about drug company corruption, Donald Trump has tapped Eli Lilly's former president to run the Department of Health and Human Services.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

It's been about six weeks since Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was forced to resign, stemming from a controversy in which he repeatedly had taxpayers pay for his travel on private jets. Today, Donald Trump announced his nominee for Price's replacement.

President Donald Trump said Monday that he will nominate former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.Azar, 50, had until last January served as president of the American arm of drug giant Eli Lilly and Company. The Yale Law graduate Azar also had served as general counsel of HHS in the administration of President George W. Bush.

To be sure, Azar's nomination doesn't come as too big of a surprise. Nearly a month ago, reports surfaced that Azar was the frontrunner for the job; he's a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act; and he's a doctrinaire partisan on the Republican Party's regressive health care agenda, especially on issues such as gutting Medicaid through block grants.

What is surprising, though, is that this president would tap a drug company executive to oversee federal health care policy.

When he's pretending to be a populist, Trump has treated the pharmaceutical industry with public disdain. As recently as a month ago, the Republican president complained, “The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder" -- a phrase he's repeated more than once.

Indeed, has even accused the drug industry of corruption, arguing that pharmaceutical companies contribute "massive amounts of money" to politicians as part of a scheme to keep the cost of medicines higher.

It's against this backdrop that Trump decided to pick Eli Lilly's former president to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

What an odd choice.

Postscript: For more background on Azar, note that he clerked for Antonin Scalia, was part of Ken Starr's Whitewater team, and was part of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign.