Health and Human Services secretary diagnosed with intestinal infection

- April 17, 2018

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has been diagnosed with diverticulitis, which led to a brief hospital stay this weekend and forced him to postpone an appearance before a Senate committee this week, a department official told POLITICO.

Azar was hospitalized at St. Vincent Health in his home state of Indiana on Sunday night, where he was treated with intravenous antibiotics before being discharged on Monday. The department official, who asked not to be identified, said it’s the first time Azar has suffered from diverticulitis, an infection that strikes the colon and can cause abdominal pain.

Azar was scheduled to testify on his agency's budget request at a Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations hearing on Thursday, but that will be postponed. As of Tuesday morning, it wasn't clear when Azar will return to Washington, and he may cancel or postpone other events on his schedule as he recovers.

Azar has a couple of major events on his calendar next week. President Donald Trump on April 26 is scheduled to deliver his first major speech on drug prices, which is expected to coincide with the White House and HHS rolling out their drug pricing plan. Trump has leaned on Azar, a former drug company executive, to play a major role in devising that plan. Azar on the same day is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at Health Datapalooza, one of several high-profile industry speeches he has planned in coming weeks.

Azar's illness is "minor," the official said, noting that the secretary has continued to work. "The secretary’s a hard charger," the official added. "This is a forced slowdown for him — at his doctor’s orders and his wife’s."

Diverticulitis is often linked to a low-fiber diet and is frequently treated with liquids, antibiotics and rest. Severe cases can lead to complications like perforation of the intestine, which requires surgery.

Another prominent Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was also hospitalized for diverticulitis Sunday. McCain, who was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and is separately battling brain cancer, underwent surgery to treat the condition.


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