Trending News Today: Senate Confirms New HHS Secretary

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

Yesterday, the Senate approved former pharma executive Alex Azar, JD, as the new Secretary of the US Dpeartment of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a vote of 55-43. Azar, formerly president of Eli Lilly USA and deputy secretary and general counsel of HHS under President George W. Bush, stated his main goals are to lower the cost of prescription drugs, improve the affordability and availability of health insurance, foster a bipartisan effort to address Medicare, and to address the opioid epidemic, according to the New York Times. Although Azar’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry have raised concerns among consumer groups and some lawmakers, the new secretary stated he is not beholden to special interests. "I don't have pharma's policy agenda. This is the most important job I will have in a lifetime, and my commitment is to the American people," Azar told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as reported by the New York Times.

Watchdog groups are becoming alarmed at what they deem a revolving door between the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry, according to a report by Kaiser Health News and Legistorm, a nonpartisan congressional research company. The article notes that approximately 340 former congressional staffers are currently employed by pharmaceutical manufacturers or their lobbying firms. Conversely, more than a dozen former pharma employees currently work on committees that deal directly with health care policy, according to KHN. “Who do they really work for?” Jock Friedly, Legistorm president and founder, said in the report. “Are they working for the person who is paying their bills at that moment or are they essentially working on behalf of the interests who have funded them in the past and may fund them in the future?”

A group of 15 people in Kentucky who are insured through Medicaid became the first to file suit against the government in an attempt to block rules that would require them to work to keep their health benefits, according to ABC News. Kentucky was approved earlier this month by lawmakers to become the first state to require many Medicaid recipients to have a job or do volunteer work to maintain their health coverage. The new rules would also charge monthly premiums and block people from coverage for 6 months if they fail to notify state officials of any changes in their employment and income status, according to ABC. The plaintiffs in the suit are being supported by the National Health Law Program and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. "We will not be intimidated. We will defend the rights of individuals to enroll in Kentucky's Medicaid program," Samuel Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told ABC News.