U.S. Senate confirms Alex Azar as Trump's 2nd health secretary

WASHINGTON - (AP) - The Senate has confirmed a former drug company executive as President Donald Trump's second health secretary.

Alex Azar will take on the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services. The sprawling agency has been shaken by the administration's tumultuous first year.

The 55-43 vote was largely along party lines.

HHS is a $1 trillion department that oversees major health insurance programs, drug and food safety, disease control and prevention, and advanced medical research. Azar succeeds Tom Price, who resigned amid questions about his travel.

Azar says his priorities are to help curb high prescription drug costs, make health insurance more affordable and available, focus Medicare payments on quality, and confront the growing opioid addiction epidemic.

He previously held high-level HHS posts under former President George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Carper(D-Del.) released a statement after voting to confirm Azar as Secretary of the Department of health and Human Services saying, "While I continue to have concerns about his perspectives on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, I believe Alex Azar is qualified to lead HHS. In his conversations with me, Mr. Azar said he shared one of my main goals of transforming our current health care system, which can often lead to mistreatment and overuse, to one that rewards health care providers based on the quality of care patients receive. We should reward doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies for making people well, not for the number of procedures done, hospitalizations required or drugs prescribed. 

"We have to stay focused on this transition if we are to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, and more important, improve the health of all Americans. I intend to monitor Mr. Azar's actions as Secretary to ensure he follows through on his promises to me to work constructively to ensure every American has access to high-quality, affordable health care, and I expect his staff and him to engage with my staff and me frequently to make progress on this critical effort."

In reference to Azar's confirmation, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) says, " After careful consideration, I've decided to support President Trump's nomination of Alex Azar to serve as our next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I have known Mr. Azar for several decades and have always been impressed with his intellect and work ethic. Mr. Azar also brings a wealth of experience to this role, having served in a number of different senior roles at HHS and in the private sector."

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