Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate confirmed former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday.
The Senate confirmed Azar, who left pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. in January 2017, by a vote of 55-43. Every Republican senator except for Rand Paul of Kentucky voted in support of Azar along with six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.
Azar will serve as the permanent replacement for Tom Price, who resigned in September amid scrutiny over his use of private chartered flights at the cost of $1 million to taxpayers.
Azar will head the department responsible for the U.S. Medicare and Medicaid health programs, as well as agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
With a $1 trillion budget, Azar likely will oversee Republican efforts to scale back the Medicaid health program for low-income and disabled people and to modify the Affordable Care Act after efforts to repeal and replace it failed in the Senate.
Azar said he will consider implementing some kind of negotiation in Medicare Part B, the portion which covers drugs that must be administered by doctors for the elderly.
He also dismissed the idea of doing the same with the larger prescription-drug benefit, Part D, saying private companies already bargain for lower prices on the government's behalf.
Azar previously served as general counsel for Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.
He also is expected to draw on his experience as president of Lilly USA from 2012 to 2017 to scrutinize the prices of prescription drugs, which he has said are too high.