Alex Azar Has No Record of Lowering Medication Prices, His Nomination Is a Threat to Anyone Who Uses Prescriptions

Nov. 29, 2017

Alex Azar Has No Record of Lowering Medication Prices, His Nomination Is a Threat to Anyone Who Uses Prescriptions

Statements From Public Citizen Experts

Note: The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions holds a hearing today on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Alex Azar to be the next U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar served for five years as president of Lilly USA, LLC, the largest affiliate of global biopharmaceutical leader Eli Lilly and Company, who under Azar’s leadership brought about steep price increases on insulin and other drugs.

“If Alex Azar’s nomination is confirmed, then Big Pharma’s coup d’etat in the health care sphere will be virtually complete.

“In his public statements, Alex Azar has made clear that he is opposed to measures to restrain prescription companies’ profiteering and limiting improper marketing, while favoring weaker safety approval standards.

“Azar is acknowledging high prices are a problem, but his solution – out of Big Pharma’s playbook – is to divert attention away from the brand-name manufacturers and instead blame insurers. But there can be no real solution to price gouging unless the monopoly pricing abuses of Big Pharma are faced and ended.

“Americans understand passionately, that price gouging leads to rationing of care. It is unethical and must end. Even President Trump says so. But it is highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company executive who has made fervent arguments against price restraints is also going to advance real reforms. Much more likely is that he serves as another instrument by which Big Pharma defends its monopolies and unaffordable prices.

“The swamp only gets worse. Tom Price supported Big Pharma in the Congress. Now the Senate will consider whether to appoint a pharmaceutical executive to literally run the federal department that protects the health of all Americans.”

-Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen        

“Eli Lilly under Alex Azar helped pioneer a devolution of the pharmaceutical industry, where firms compete by increasing payouts to middlemen instead of reducing prices to consumers.

“During Azar’s tenure, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, the ‘big three,’ tripled the price of the major insulin products in near lockstep. They used high list prices to attract the business of pharmacy-benefit managers, middlemen who keep an undisclosed percentage of the discounts they negotiate with manufacturers. Patients and consumers suffer unaffordable prices as a result.

“Azar’s experience is in lobbying more than resisting lobbyists; extracting money from consumers rather than saving them money. Even before his term as president, Azar helped triple Lilly’s lobbying spending.
 
“As the Senate considers his nomination for HHS, courts and five state attorneys general will consider whether Azar’s and Lilly’s insulin pricing and promotion abuses violated the False Claims Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and dozens of state consumer protection laws. More people who cannot afford their insulin will continue dying.

“We don’t need another pharma top lobbyist. We need an HHS Secretary that will hold price gougers and prescription corporations accountable. Alex Azar is not it.”

-Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

###