President Donald Trump today welcomed Alex Azar II to his cabinet, as the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath office to Azar as Azar’s wife, children, and other relatives and friends looked on.

Trump implied in opening remarks, without referring directly to the Affordable Care Act, that he expects Azar to continue efforts to change the Obama-era health law.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has already achieved a great deal rolling back regulations that drive up health care costs, but we have a long way to go,” Trump said at the ceremony, which was streamed live on the web. “A lot of people are very happy with the amount we’ve done already, but Alex is going to bring that to a big, brand-new level.”

(Related: HHS Nominee Backs Interstate Health Coverage Sales)

Trump said other administration priorities will include fighting the opioid addiction crisis and getting control over prescription drug prices.

“We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down and unravel the tangled web of special interests that are driving prices up for medicine and for really hurting patients,” Trump said. “And we’re going to get that done. That’s going to be so important.”

Azar has been the head of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, Under former President George W. Bush, he served at HHS both as the department’s general counsel and as its deputy secretary.

President Donald Trump (Photo: White House)

President Donald Trump (Photo: White House)

Trump said Azar’s success in those roles show he has the experience to do a good job at HHS.

At HHS, “people talk about him to this day,” Trump said. ”He was instrumental in improving the department’s operations and advancing its emergency response capabilities. Alex knows inside and out the impact of government policy on patients, health care, and prices.”

The policy priorities Azar mentioned in his own remarks were coping with the opiate addiction crisis and bringing prescription drug prices.

Azar said Trump has given him person direction “that we have to tackle the scourge of the opiate crisis, and we will bring down prescription drug prices.

Azar said becoming the HHS secretary is an honor.

“Only in America, the grandchild and great-grandchild of immigrants from Lebanon, from the Ukraine, from England, Switzerland, gets to have that opportunity,” Azar said.

Azar also praised the 79,000 HHS employees.

“I know these people, I know this team, and the deep commitment that they have to the mission of HHS to enhance and protect the wellbeing and health of all Americans,” Azar said. “That is a solemn charge.  It is a charge that I am committed to.”

Azar recently said at a Senate hearing that he supports the idea of letting small employers buy coverage through association health plans.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., an Azar opponent, has said that she believes Azar is open to adjusting the current HHS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act essential health benefits rules.

Azar did not talk about those topics or other topics related to the health law at the swearing-in ceremony.

—Read Trump Health Pick Has Blamed Health Plans, PBMs for Drug Costs on ThinkAdvisor.


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