The Lebanese diaspora’s affinity to the Trump regime strikes again with Alex Azar, of Lebanese origins, being nominated by American president Donald Trump to head the U.S. Health and Human Services department, which is essentially the equivalent of health ministries elsewhere around the world.
The healthcare sector in the United States corresponds to one of the top expenditures of the American economy, and of citizens. When I first came here, having the way insurance works here be explained to me was more complicated than some of the things I studied during medical school. And, after practicing medicine here for the last several months, I’ve come to realize how much their healthcare system, Obamacare or not, needs fixing in order to further better the health of their people. For being the world’s top superpower, their indices as well as the overall health of their people is nowhere near where it could be because of how the system has been built for years, to put Americans at a disadvantage when it comes to access and affordability.
Up until recently, the U.S. HHS secretary was Tom Price. He resigned after a scandal of him using taxpayer money to fund private travels. At more than $1 million, and multiple Politico articles exposing him, Price had the shortest tenure as HHS secretary. The department, with everything that the Republicans are doing to change healthcare to what suits them, is still dealing with his resignation.
Enter Alex Azar.
A descendant of Lebanese immigrants, Alex Azar was born in 1967 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. His father, also named Alex Azar, was an ophthalmologist and teacher at John Hopkins. He holds a law degree from Yale Law School, and was a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court in the early 1990s. He also worked for Kenneth W. Starr, the counsel who investigated Bill Clinton leading up to his impeachment in the 1990s as well.
Apart from his law background, Azar is also a health care expert being a former president of the American division of Eli Lilly and a health official in the George W. Bush administration, as per the New York Times. His allies, as does Trump, believe that Azar will be using his legal and health expertise to advance the Republican agenda of reforming Obamacare, which Azar believes to be a broken system, as well as to lead to lower price of drugs.
As a comparison to Lebanese readers, medications in the U.S. – even though they are mostly created and often produced here – are exorbitantly expensive. An antibiotic that you can get for $7 at a pharmacy in Lebanon would cost you north of $200 here, unless you have a good insurance plan. I’ve had patients come to the hospital nearing death because they can’t afford the medications they were prescribed.
The irony of asking someone who was the head of a pharmaceutical company to contribute to cheaper prices of drugs should not escape you. Democrats will probably grill Azar about his background in the pharmaceutical business, as well as his record in his role at the HHS previously, as they should. For a president, like Donald Trump, who wants to “drain the swamp,” he sure keeps finding a way to bring lobbyists and people of that swamp right into the heart of power. He’s also extremely conservative – as are the majority of Lebanese Americans by the looks of it.
Nonetheless, Azar’s expertise should come in handy for a Trump administration scrambling for legislative victories in the American political scene. What those victories mean to Americans and those living here (raises hand) remain to be seen.
On the Lebanese side of things, I hope that this appointment adds to Lebanon’s lobbying powers with the Americans, further tilting the Trump administration from negative actions towards my home country, and – maybe – guiding the quagmire of the Middle East, and the Saudi Arabian debacle – to a healthy conclusion.
Good luck to Mr. Azar in his confirmation hearing. He will need it. I just hope he’s more reasonable than Waleed Phares (I still don’t know why he spells his last name that way).