The Latest: Franken asks health nominee about women's care

The Latest on the nomination of Alex Azar to be health secretary (all times local):

11:35 a.m.

Under fire over sexual misconduct allegations, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken focused on women's health concerns during his questioning of health secretary nominee Alex Azar.

The Democratic senator confronted Azar over the Trump administration's decision to allow employers with religious or moral beliefs to opt out of a federal requirement that health plans provide free birth control coverage to women employees as a preventive benefit.

Azar said only a relatively small number of companies have taken advantage of the administration's exemption, defending it as an attempt to balance competing interests.

Pressed about his own beliefs, Azar agreed "it seems to make some sense" that contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Franken has apologized for his behavior, as described by several women who came forward. He says he welcomes an ethics investigation.


9:35 a.m.

President Donald Trump's pick to be the health secretary says people "pushed out or left out" by the Obama-era health law also need help.

Alex Azar says in prepared remarks for the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee that government must help people who risk being priced out of the insurance market by rising premiums.

Several million consumers who buy their own health insurance policies aren't eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. But their premiums have gone up because of the health law.

Legislation to help stabilize premiums is pending in Congress.

Azar is a former drug company and government executive. He seems to be trying to avoid the kind of harsh rhetoric about the health law that usually comes from Trump and that Democrats find objectionable


9:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump's pick to be the new health secretary says drug prices are "too high."

Alex Azar — a former drug company and government executive — is telling senators he has the knowledge and background to address the problem.

Azar is shying away from specific proposals in prepared remarks before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Trump's nominee says his knowledge of how insurance, drug companies, pharmacies and government programs work together gives him the skill set to tackle the complex issue.

If confirmed, the 50-year old Azar would lead a $1 trillion department with 80,000 employees. The Health and Human Services Department oversees major government health insurance programs, drug approval and safety, medical research and public health.