The Obamacare opponent would lead a department filled with ideologues who’ve attacked women’s health again and again.
With Tom Price having flown the coop late in September, President Trump has announced a new nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS): Alex Azar, an Indiana attorney and former president of pharmaceutical firm Lilly USA.
If you’re hoping that Azar’s appointment might signal a new, less combative phase in the administration’s efforts to undermine your access to health care…well, don’t raise your hopes too high.
No matter who’s nominated as the next HHS secretary, this administration is still stacked with anti-women’s health ideologues bent on attacking women’s health. Trump has filled his administration with officials who oppose women’s health and rights, who don’t believe in birth control, and who have gone so far as to hold a young woman hostage to keep her from seeking a legal abortion. Until all of this changes, the attacks on reproductive health won’t stop.
Who is Alex Azar?
A former deputy secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush, Azar spent the decade after departing the administration in 2007 as an executive at Lilly USA, an Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant. He rose to the presidency of Lilly’s U.S. operations in 2012 and stayed in that role until early 2017.
Azar has long participated in events and publications sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society — a legal nonprofit described in the New Yorker this year as the right wing’s “pipeline to the Supreme Court.” After law school, Azar clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; Azar described Scalia, after the justice’s death in 2016, as “one of the 10 greatest figures in the history of Anglo-American law in the thousand years of that tradition.”
What are his views on health care?
Despite his record as a business executive and a high-ranking HHS official, Azar has made few recorded comments over the years about reproductive and sexual health, women’s health, or birth control.
What we do know is that Azar doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) much — and appears to not care much for Medicaid, either. During a series of appearances this year on Fox Business to discuss Republicans’ health care legislation, Azar incorrectly asserted that:
the Affordable Care Act was “circling the drain”
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warnings of how Republicans’ bills would cause tens of millions to lose health coverage showed how “CBO is notoriously bad at predicting dynamics of the insurance market”
affordable health coverage for older Americans through the ACA amounted to “young people” unfairly subsidizing “older people through artificially high premiums.”
On a separate occasion, Azar said he saw the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid as unsuccessful, despite the fact that it extended coverage to 11 million people. He described the expansion as “throwing more money and more beneficiaries into state-run, single-payer government programs.”
Bottom Line: Until the Makeup of HHS Changes, the Attacks on Reproductive Health Care Won’t Stop
If personnel is policy, then what matters most with the Azar appointment is what isn’t changing: the team of anti-women’s health ideologues who work in the corner offices of HHS headquarters.
The Trump administration has consistently, since entering office, used personnel choices and regulatory moves to attack women’s health care — undermining Title X protections for family planning, expanding the already harmful global gag rule, placing an anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court, and backing repeated efforts to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and leave millions of people without health coverage. To name a few of the anti-women’s health extremists placed at HHS by Trump:
Teresa Manning, who oversees the Title X program — the nation’s only federal program dedicated to family planning — once said in an interview that “contraception doesn’t work”
Scott Lloyd, who directs the Office of Refugee Resettlement, instructed his department to go to extreme lengths to block young immigrant women detained by the government from accessing abortions — and has written that women who have used Title X programs should sign a pledge that they won’t have an abortion if they need one.
Matthew Bowman, the legal advisor to the HHS secretary, was an architect of the effort to dismantle the ACA’s birth control coverage guarantee; additionally, he has been vocal in his belief that IUDs and emergency contraception cause abortions and that the contraceptive mandate may spread measles.
The Fight for Birth Control
You can learn about these and other radical appointees inside HHS on our Fight for Birth Control site.