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Coalition Demands Senators Reject Alex Azar as Nation’s Top Health Official

Jan. 24, 2018

Coalition Demands Senators Reject Alex Azar as Nation’s Top Health Official

Statements from Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, and Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

Note: The full U.S. Senate is expected today to vote to confirm Lilly USA president Alex Azar for secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS). If he is confirmed, the vote will come despite widespread opposition from consumer advocates and the public. Today, a broad-based coalition of health care, consumer and labor organizations is delivering 300,000 petition signatures to Senate offices, demanding that they investigate Azar’s role in making lifesaving medications unaffordable and vote against Azar’s nomination to lead HHS.

With the Senate’s expected confirmation of Alex Azar’s nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services, Big Pharma’s political coup will be complete. The industry whose business model is built around government-funded research and development, government-granted monopolies and government purchases of its overpriced medicines will have installed one of its own as the nation’s top health official.

At his confirmation hearing, Azar agreed that prescription costs are out of control and said he wanted to address medicine affordability – but he was eager to place blame for the problem on every player in the health care industry except the one that matters most: Big Pharma.

When Azar is working for a president who complained that Big Pharma is “getting away with murder,” consumer advocates will challenge Azar again and again to take action to make treatments affordable. Azar never should have been nominated and he shouldn’t be confirmed; but if he is confirmed, we will test again and again whether he remains loyal to Big Pharma or aims to serve the American people.

– 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 making medicines affordable for 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 as a result.

Now Azar is poised to become HHS secretary. There is no reason to expect him to hold prescription corporations accountable, and every reason to anticipate that his tenure will enable Big Pharma to continue and worsen its blatant rip-offs of American consumers and taxpayers.

However, an outraged American public increasingly is organizing to demand action. Over time, with or without Azar, U.S. government policy is going to change fundamentally to control Big Pharma’s misconduct and to make medicines affordable.

– Peter Maybarduk, director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program