President Donald Trump tweeted Monday morning that he would nominate Alex Azar, a former executive with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The nation’s largest skilled nursing provider association stands ready to work with Azar, the group stated, while others raised some concerns about what his nomination could mean for long-term care.
“Mr. Azar is a respected and experienced leader and we congratulate him on his nomination,” American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) President and CEO Mark Parkinson said in a statement emailed to Skilled Nursing News. “We look forward to working with him upon his confirmation to provide solutions to delivering quality care for the over one millions seniors and individuals with disabilities we serve.”
LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan echoed Parkinson, saying the organization looks forward to collaborating with Azar, particularly in its areas of focus.
“Our big-picture outlook focuses on improving long-term services and supports for people in need of care; reducing unnecessary regulatory burden for providers; and expanding and preserving affordable housing,” she said in an emailed statement to SNN.
If confirmed, Azar would replace Tom Price, who resigned in September during an investigation into his use of private jets. Price, a physician, was widely seen as an ally for the skilled nursing sector, thanks to his position on issues such as bundled payments, which he believed should not be mandatory.
Azar’s background with Eli Lilly has put the focus more on how his leadership of HHS might affect the pharmaceutical industry. Trump’s tweet announcing his nomination focused on this topic:
Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2017
Azar worked for Eli Lilly from 2007 to 2017, serving as president of the company’s U.S. division from 2011 to January of this year.
In 2009, while Azar was serving as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Eli Lilly, the company settled criminal and federal allegations against it related to the psychiatric drug Zyprexa, Slate pointed out in a piece posted Monday. An investigation by federal agencies found Eli Lilly used “significant resources” to promote unapproved uses of the drug in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The investigation also indicated the company also caused false payment claims to be submitted to federal insurance programs.
Azar has been critical of the Affordable Care Act and has supported converting Medicaid into block grants–a position that should make skilled nursing providers wary of him in the HHS leadership role, argued New Hampshire Health Care Association Brendan Williams, in a piece published Monday in The Hill.
Such grants, however, would undo the current federal-state partnership in the Medicaid program and could lead to cuts for long-term care providers, he wrote.
“Will [Azar] stand up for the millions of vulnerable Americans his agency serves?” Williams wrote. “Fearful caregivers, and the elderly and those with disabilities that they serve, await answers.”
Azar has long been focused on controlling costs in health care, Mary Grealy, the head of the Health Care Leadership Council, told USA Today. She cited initiatives Azar undertook with insurance companies while at Lilly to shift to reimburse drug firms based on the quality of their products.
Written by Maggie Flynn