Nominee’s ties to pharma a red flag for Warren

  • Steven Senne Steven Senne


State House News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gave voice Wednesday morning to arguably the largest hurdle Alex Azar II, the president’s nominee to serve as secretary of health and human services, will have to clear to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“You’ve got some convincing to make me believe that you’re going to represent the American people and not big pharma. And I know that’s insulting and I don’t mean it to be because I’m sure you’re an honest and upright person, but we all have our doubts because big pharma manipulates the system to keep prices high,” Paul, a Republican, told Azar during his confirmation hearing.

Azar, a Hoosier whose career has included stints at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as a private drug company executive, was nominated earlier this month by President Donald Trump to succeed Tom Price. Price resigned as the point person on health and human services in September.

Azar worked for HHS under President George W. Bush, first as the department’s general counsel and later as deputy secretary. Upon leaving government service, he went to work for the massive pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly and Company, eventually becoming president of affiliate Lilly USA.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised similar concerns as Paul, suggesting that Azar’s work history suggests he was more interested in being paid than actually holding drug companies to account.

“Mr. Azar, I’ll get right to the point. Your resume reads like a how-to manual for profiting from government service,” Warren told the nominee. “About a decade ago you worked in government helping regulate the nation’s most profitable drug companies and when you left you went straight through the revolving door and became an executive at Eli Lilly Company. Last year they paid you about $3.5 million for doing that, not bad. And now you want to go back through the revolving door and once again regulate the same drug companies, at least do it until you decide to go through the revolving door again.”

Azar faced similar comments and questions from other Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during Wednesday’s hearing. When he responded directly, Azar said that having worked on both sides of the pharmaceutical industry will make him a better secretary, especially when it comes to controlling drug prices.