In a 55-43 vote that was largely along party lines, the Senate confirmed Alex Azar on Wednesday as the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The news comes after Tom Price, the department’s former secretary, resigned in September 2017 after he was criticized for using private charter planes for official travel.
In light of Azar’s Senate confirmation, here’s what you need to know.
Who is Alex Azar?
Azar, 50, is a Yale-educated lawyer who has spent a large chunk of his career in the healthcare industry, an industry he claims he entered “largely by accident,” he once wrote.
For a decade, Azar served as a senior executive of drugmaker Eli Lilly, which has been criticized for raising the price of insulin and other widely used medications. Though he resigned from the Indianapolis-based company last year, he built a financial portfolio that’s now worth between $9.5 million and $20.6 million, according to disclosure records filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
Azar also served as General Counsel of HHS and later as Deputy Secretary of HHS under former President George W. Bush.
As HHS Secretary, Azar has four main priorities, he said: to help curb the high cost of prescription drugs, make health insurance more affordable and available, continue bipartisan efforts to focus Medicare payments on quality and confront the growing opioid addiction epidemic.
Why did Tom Price resign?
Price, Trump’s former health secretary, resigned in September after he was widely criticized for using private charter planes for official travel. Price reportedly flew to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in costly private charter aircraft.
In August, he also reportedly took a government-funded private plane to St. Simons Island. Price owns land on the island, which is just off of the Georgia coast. He allegedly flew there before attending a medical conference.
And during official trips to Africa, Europe and beyond, Price took a military aircraft — a move that allegedly cost taxpayers more than $500,000.
“Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement shortly after he resigned.
President Trump then tapped Don J. Wright as acting secretary. Wright worked as the deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion before he became the department’s acting secretary.
What does the Department of Health and Human Services do?
The department is responsible for health insurance programs covering more than 130 million people, drug and food safety, disease detection and prevention and advanced medical research.
The trillion-dollar department also plays a major role in the economy and accounts for about one-fourth of the federal budget.
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.