- President Donald Trump’s nominee for the country’s top health position, Alex Azar, fielded questions from senators on Wednesday.
- Overwhelmingly, the questions centered around the price of prescription drugs, based on Azar’s past experience as an executive at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, a company that makes the diabetes treatment insulin.
- During Azar’s tenure at Lilly, the price of insulin increased by about 300%.
- “Drug prices are too high. The president has made that clear. So have I,” Azar said as part of his opening remarks.
President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary knows his top priority for the department.
“Drug prices are too high,” nominee Alex Azar said in his opening remarks at a Senate hearing Wednesday. “The president has made that clear. So have I.”
It’s a point senators kept returning to throughout the hearing. As HHS secretary, Azar would oversee a number of health agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pharmaceutical and medical device makers, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which pay for prescription drugs.
Azar’s experience as a pharmaceutical executive puts him in an interesting position on the topic of drug prices. Over the 10-year period when Azar was at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the price of insulin, a life-saving drug used to treat diabetes, notched a three-fold increase.
Azar, who most recently served as president of Lilly USA, did clarify to senators that he worked on non-diabetes businesses within the company.
During the hearing, Azar said he’d address rising prices of prescription drugs by:
- Increasing generic and branded competition.
- Fighting the gaming in the system in which companies use patents to prolong the exclusivity they have before generic drugs reach the market.
- Getting an answer to why Americans are paying more than other countries for prescription drugs. That’s a point Trump has made as well.
On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul brought up the price of insulin and its history, asking why a drug that’s been around in one form or another since the 1920s doesn’t have generic competition. (The answer: Unlike chemically-derived drugs like an antibiotic, insulin is made of living cells. That makes the process for making a copy of insulin a bit more difficult.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin referenced the finger-pointing that’s been going on in the drug industry over drug prices. There are a lot of players involved in the buying and selling of prescription drugs that contribute to patients paying high prices. Drugmakers, for their part, are in charge of setting the initial list price of prescription drugs. She asked what Azar would do about insulin prices if he were head of HHS.
In response, Azar said that people with diabetes need plans with better prescription coverage, a point he emphasized throughout the hearing. He conceded, “We need to get the list prices down also.”
At the hearing, Azar noted that he’d work to fix the pricing system so that patients don’t have such high costs.
“That system is not working for the patients that are paying out of pocket,” Azar said. “We have to recognize that.”
Senators pressed him on his agenda about who he’d be working for: patients or the pharmaceutical industry.
“This is the most important job I will ever have in my lifetime, and my commitment is to the American people, not to an industry,” Azar said.