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HHS Nominee Azar Questioned on Drug Pricing in Senate Finance Hearing

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee held the second hearing for Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar, the former president of Lilly USA, the North American branch of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals, faced criticism from the Democratic senators on the committee for his role in increasing drug prices as a pharma executive. As Senator Wyden of Oregon emphasized through a series of charts on different drugs’ pricing throughout the years of Azar’s tenure at Lilly USA – where he headed the company’s pricing committee – Azar had never signed off on a price decrease for a drug, but had approved increases that far outpaced inflation and production rates. Michigan Senator Stabenow questioned even more directly about the doubling of Lilly’s insulin prices under Azar, pointing out that the hormone had been used medically since the 1920s and thus needed no further scientific research surrounding it (as research is supposedly a significant driver of costs in pharmaceutical development). Azar refuted the critiques, arguing that no other drug executive at the time had decreased prices either, and committed himself to working with Congress and others, if confirmed, to lower drug prices for consumers while protecting the drug industry.

Aside from drug prices, Azar listed three other areas where he would focus his efforts as HHS Secretary: increasing access to affordable and individualized healthcare, shifting federal health spending to an outcomes-based model, and addressing the opioid epidemic. Like with drug pricing, Azar was hesitant to voice any of his own ideas about moving forward in these areas, but agreed to collaborate with individuals and agencies to come up with the best solutions for each. 

It is likely that Azar will be confirmed as HHS Secretary despite the concerns expressed by some Senators, having the support of the Republican majority and a few Democrats as well. AIDS United will closely monitor Azar’s actions as Secretary if he is confirmed and will respond, as always, in the best interest of people living with and affected by HIV. 

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, January 12, 2018

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