Former Maryland man confirmed to lead U.S. health department

The Senate voted largely along party lines Wednesday to confirm a former Marylander as President Donald J. Trump’s head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Alex Azar, an Indianapolis man who grew up in Salisbury, will succeed Tom Price, a former congressman from Georgia who resigned last year following his use of private jets.

The Senate voted 55-43 to confirm Azar.

Azar, an outspoken critic of Obamacare, will take over the department at a time when the Trump administration has successfully unwound portions of the Affordable Care Act — including a requirement that everyone carry some form of insurance or face a tax penalty.

That effort, however, has the potential to further destabilize health insurance markets, including in Maryland, and Azar will have a hand in addressing the impact.

Azar worked most recently as the president of Lilly USA, the U.S. affiliate of drug giant Eli Lilly and Company. He was a deputy secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush.

“Mr. Azar knows HHS inside and out following his tenure there under President George W. Bush, and I’m confident that he will hit the ground running as secretary,” Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who represents the Eastern Shore said in a statement.

“I congratulate Secretary Azar on his appointment and look forward to working with him as we continue our efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and lower the cost of healthcare for hard-working Americans.”

Azar’s father, Dr. Alex Azar, has practiced ophthalmology on the Eastern Shore since 1976.

A 50-year-old Ivy League-educated lawyer, Azar says he has four main priorities for the health department: help curb the cost of prescription drugs; make health insurance more affordable and available; continue bipartisan efforts to focus Medicare payments on quality; and confront the opioid addiction epidemic.

“I don't have pharma's policy agenda,” he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “This is the most important job I will have in a lifetime, and my commitment is to the American people.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the nomination.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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