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Will A Pharma Fox Run The Health Care Henhouse?

By Alan Zibel

Just weeks after denouncing “out-of-control” prescription prices, President Donald Trump showed that giant pharmaceutical companies have nothing to fear from the Trump administration.

In fact, they couldn’t be more pleased. By nominating a former pharmaceutical company executive, Alex Azar, to run the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump is ensuring that Big Pharma’s coup d’etat in the health care sphere will be virtually complete.

Azar served for five years as president of Lilly USA, the largest affiliate of global biopharmaceutical company  Eli Lilly and Company. Under Azar’s watch at Eli Lilly, prices have spiked for diabetic Americans. Eli Lilly raised the price of the insulin drug Humalog by 345 percent from $2,657.88 per year to $9,172.80 per year.

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

For example, when asked about drug prices at the Veeva Sumit in May  2017,  Azar criticized price controls and limitations on high drug prices, while failing even to admit the prescription drug industry’s role in setting high drug prices. Instead, he pivoted to the insurance industry as a culprit.  Azar has also called for lower barriers for regulation and safety of prescription drugs in multiple remarks, saying that regulators have set an “unrealistically high bar for new innovations to clear.”

Donald Trump has repeatedly shown that the real members of his constituency are corporate plutocrats rather than the working class voters who put him in office. As Bloomberg’s Max Nisen wrote in a column about Azar’s pick: “Industries traditionally don’t get to pick nominees to fill a president’s cabinet. But the Trump administration sometimes does it for them.”

Don’t take it from us. Here are Azar’s own words:

“Any country on earth would like to have the biopharmaceutical industry that we have here in the U.S.”  – May 2017 Veeva summit, quoted by Politico.

“Across the world… there’s been an  increasing focus on  reducing costs in the short term which can actually stifle cost-effective innovation in the long term. These efforts take the form of arbitrary price cuts and price controls  here in the  United  States and abroad… As we struggle with  the challenges  of  health care a narrow focus on costs of  medicine to the exclusion of innovation would be self-defeating in the long run.” – MIT Sloan BioInnovations conference in 2014

“We need  to ensure that our regulatory and  reimbursement  systems recognize and reward innovation. Unfortunately many policymakers and payers —  both public and  private —  are actually  moving in the opposite direction  setting up an unrealistically high bar for  new innovations to clear.” –MIT Sloan BioInnovations conference in 2014

“A vigorous and profitable drug industry is not a problem to be solved, but a goal to be encouraged. The future need not be a binary choice between each government doing the best it can on its own to lower drug prices, choking off medical innovation in the process, or raising health care costs still further to pay for medical innovation that our nations cannot easily afford when we act alone. “ –Aspen Institute, 2006 speech.