Once again President Trump has tapped a wolf to guard the henhouse.
Yesterday Trump officially announced the appointment of Alex Azar as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), replacing former Georgia Congressman Tom Price, who was forced to resign after it came out that he had spent about $1 million on private air travel during his short tenure.
This time he picked an executive known for tripling the price of insulin while he was president of the U.S. arm of the Eli Lilly company to be in charge of, among many things, making sure the price of drugs like insulin is not exorbitant.
NEW: Tarbell found Alex Azar would be the first drug industry executive to ever oversee American health care.
"If Alex Azar’s nomination is confirmed, then Big Pharma’s coup d’etat in the healthcare sphere will be virtually complete." https://t.co/u7onmyro8K
— Tarbell (@tarbellorg) November 14, 2017
Before Azar tripled it, the price Lilly charged for insulin had remained about the same for many, many years.
Red flag. While an executive at Eli Lilly, Alex Azar, Trump’s new HHS pick, oversaw questionable spikes in insulin prices. https://t.co/83sxIyGDg1
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) November 13, 2017
Azar previously worked at HHS as general counsel under George W. Bush’s administration, before leaving to join Eli Lilly, a drug manufacturer with about $20 billion a year in sales, which has been known for its medical innovations, but also for its frequent legal problems.
Those have included product safety issue, misleading marketing, and both giving and accepting bribes.
One of their biggest innovations was the development of the drug insulin, which has become a drug necessary for those with Type 1 diabetes to use on a daily basis – as a matter of life and death.
Eli Lilly was first charged with price fixing the cost of synthetic insulin in 1941 with two competitors.
They are currently facing similar charges of price fixing the cost of insulin, helping to triple the cost and fatten the company profits during Azar’s watch.
There is currently a class action lawsuit against Eli Lily for not only fixing the price but also in doing so, violating the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The lawsuit filed in June and made public last month when a competitor settled a similar lawsuit, charges that Eli Lilly under Azar ran an illegal marketing scheme described in legal papers as a “multi-tiered kickback scheme.”
The scheme, which was carried out with accomplices who specialize in drug marketing, involved Eli Lily providing free nursing services to convince doctors to prescribe three of their insulin drugs.
Eli Lily helped doctors who prescribed the drugs get financial reimbursements.
“While purporting to provide independent medical advice and disease-awareness information, the nurse educators were, in reality, acting as undercover sales reps for Lilly,” the lawsuit states, according to FiercePharma.com, “focused on the mission Lilly had retained them to accomplish (to sell Lilly products).”
This is a big deal because about 10 percent of Americans suffer from diabetes and many of them need insulin on a daily basis to stay alive.
The price of insulin should be on a downward trajectory. After all, it was discovered in 1921. Extending a patent for close to 100 years at the expense of diabetics' lives is immoral. Alex Azar is a perfect fit for the Trump admin. https://t.co/dlgBmcKgGm
— Dr. Kathie Allen (@kathieallenmd) November 14, 2017
At HHS, Azar will also be charged with supporting Obamacare, which the Republican Congress failed to kill earlier this year. Like Trump, Azar has been a critic of Obamacare and an advocate of repealing it.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) November 13, 2017
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is a member of the Senate Health Committee, which is one of the committees that will evaluate Azar, said he will oppose his appointment.
“During Mr. Azar’s tenure at Eli Lilly,” Sanders said on Monday, according to The Hill, “this multibillion-dollar corporation dodged taxes while charging Americans outrageously high prices for life-saving prescription drugs.”
“We need an HHS secretary who is willing to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower prescription drug prices,” added Sanders in his statement, “not one who has financially benefitted from this greed.”
When he nominated Azar, Trump promised he “will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices.”
Not everyone agrees. The president of the non-profit group Public Citizen, Robert Weissman, says Azar has been complicit in “price gouging” by pharmaceutical companies.
“If Alex Azar’s nomination is confirmed,” says Weissman, “then Big Pharma’s coup d’etat in the healthcare sphere will be virtually complete.”
Azar cleared the Senate Health committee yesterday and will have his appointment voted on by the full Senate on November 29, it was announced today. He is expected to be approved along party lines with the Republican majority voting for him.
We reject Trump’s HHS nominee Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who will work to undermine Medicare on behalf of corporate interests.
— Omar Vaid (@omarvaid) November 13, 2017
This is the latest in a long string of Trump appointments of people with a long record inside an industry being chosen to regulate that industry, with a great likelihood they will eventually return to work in that industry again.
Alex Azar, Trump’s new HHS nominee, is a big time Pharma exec. Adding to the more than 50% of nominees who have conflicts https://t.co/KPP9Aez3Pk
— Sam Stein (@samstein) November 13, 2017
That is a formula which almost guarantees the person who is supposed to be a regulator looking out for the American people instead will doing favors for the industry in order to assure himself a rich position once he returns to the private sector.
The price of drug prices in the U.S. has been a huge problem for years, and even efforts by President Obama did little to change that. Under Trump, it almost assuredly will be even worse and the people who can least afford it will once again be hit hard in the pocketbook to get the drug that they need to stay alive.
Trump only nominated Alex Azar because Martin Shkreli was unavailable.
— Frederick Douglass (@gettinnoticedmo) November 13, 2017