President Trump's nomination of Alex Azar for secretary of Health and Human Services is encouraging news for free-market health reformers. Azar possesses precisely the combination of legal acumen, bureaucratic savvy, management experience dealing with a large workforce, and private-sector experience required to eliminate those parts of Obamacare that can be accomplished through administrative action.
Azar's conservative legal credentials are impressive. He clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. This alone suggests a healthy aversion to federal overreach — a welcome trait for a person tasked with overseeing one of the largest and most influential federal departments.
He is no stranger to navigating and taming federal bureaucracy. He spent more than five years at HHS during the George W. Bush administration, first as a general counsel and ultimately as deputy secretary. As a result, Azar has a unique understanding of the agency's policy process — something that will prove useful in undoing parts of Obamacare through administrative authority.
After all, Obamacare awards extraordinary freedom to the HHS secretary in administering the law. There are 1,442 provisions that begin with phrases like "The Secretary shall . . ." or "The Secretary may . . ."
Azar's tenure as the head of Eli Lilly's U.S. operations, meanwhile, suggests a deep appreciation for the role of choice and competition in strengthening the health sector. He has gone on record condemning Obamacare as recently as May, calling the law "a fundamentally broken system" that is "circling the drain."
Azar, a market-minded HHS head who knows how to navigate agency politics, seems especially well-equipped to use executive authority to roll back the health law's most destructive provisions. He has said that, if approved as secretary, he would work to lower drug prices by boosting competition, not support drug importation from other countries, and change the electronic health records requirements for providers under Obamacare.
Sally Pipes (@sallypipes) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute.
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