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Former Lilly exec Alex Azar emerges as possible contender to lead HHS

Former Eli Lilly and Co. executive Alex Azar has emerged as a possible leading contender to be President Donald Trump's next secretary of Health and Human Services following the resignation in September of Tom Price, who departed under a cloud of scandal involving his taxpayer-funded flights on chartered and government jets.

According to a Politico report quoting two unnamed White House officials, Trump was "leaning" toward naming Azar for the top HHS role.

The Washington Post also cited unnamed Republicans as confirming Azar was a leading candidate for the job.

The White House has declined to comment.

If nominated and confirmed by the Senate as HHS secretary, Azar would manage an agency of over 65,000 employees and an annual budget of about $700 billion. He would also be tasked with implementing any changes Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress make to the Affordable Care Act — a law the president and his party have failed in their attempts thus far to repeal.

Azar worked in various positions at Indiana-headquartered Lilly over the past decade. He most recently served as the president of the drugmaker's U.S. division, departing that job in January after five years in the role.

Azar, a Maryland native with a law degree from Yale University, is no stranger to government. During the George W. Bush administration, he served as the deputy secretary at HHS where he essentially acted as the chief operating officer of the agency — supervising operations at the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies.

Before that, Azar was a general counsel at HHS.

Azar also served as an associate independent counsel under independent counsel Kenneth Starr for two years during the Whitewater real estate investments investigation in the 1990s involving former President Bill Clinton.

Currently filling the HHS secretary's role in an acting capacity is Eric Hargan, who had been catapulted into that job just days after being sworn in as deputy secretary — a position which took several months to be confirmed.

Hargan replaced Don Wright, who had temporarily filled the HHS chief's role after Price resigned Sept. 29, following the piecemeal revelation over two weeks that month about his costly travel on private and military jets, which may have cost U.S. taxpayers up to $1 million. Price reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for some of those costs — $51,887.31 to be exact.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has also been viewed as a strong contender to be HHS secretary, although he recently indicated he was happy in his current role.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Seema Verma has also been mentioned as a possible choice to lead HHS.