Next week, President Trump’s new Health and Human Services Secretary nominee, Alex Azar, can expect to be grilled by Senators for his role at the Eli Lilly Company in which the excessive prices of drugs and the way that company and others in the industry regularly “game” the system to extend patents that give them a monopoly over popular and in some cases life saving drugs – making them billions in additional profits.
Azar is a controversial pick because, while he held a high-level executive post at Eli Lilly, they did all of those things that, while legal, were ethically questionable and politically unpopular.
He will also face anger as Trump’s pick to replace the disgraced Tom Price, who was drummed out of the Cabinet after he used private and military aircraft to take profusely expensive trips.
Azar also will be on the hot seat from Senators angry about what they believe are Trump’s lies about what he would do to help the sick, elderly, children and others facing drug costs that can throw a family into bankruptcy.
During the 2016 presidential campaign and as even as president, Trump has repeatedly promised to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs.
“We are going to get prescription drug prices way down because the world is taking advantage of us,” Trump said in October, as well as repeating a phrase he used during the campaign that drug companies are “frankly getting away with murder.”
In reality, Trump has not only done little to help consumers but has actually made his biggest moves to help the huge multinational drug sellers that dominate the business.
“Your statements and your promises gave many of us hope, but your planned executive actions suggest that you have abandoned these promises in favor of the very pharmaceutical lobby you warned of,” wrote Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Peter Welch (D-VT) who had earlier met with the president and came away with promises they realized were “fake news.”
In particular, Azar will come under heated questioning about a decision made while he was president of Eli Lily U.S. to test the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis on children to see if if might help address a rare, deadly muscle-wasting disease that afflicts boys.
The test was a long-shot and failed, but the effort had a big impact on Lily’s bottom line. Under a law passed to encourage drug manufacturers to do research into medicine for children, by doing the test, Lily got to extend the patent protection for Cialis for six more months, which was worth over $1 billion in additional profits to them.
“Critics, however, say that his record at Lilly crossed lines and should be disqualifying,” reports Politico. “Azar gamed the patent system to protect Eli Lilly’s taxpayer-funded profits under the guise of helping sick kids,” Tyson Brody, research and investigations director at Democracy Forward told Politico.
Azar, who worked at HHS under President George W. Bush, now says he opposes such tactics to game the system, but many in Washington remain skeptical.
It wasn’t like Lilly hid what they did. In fact, they were proud of it and used it to push the price of their stock.
“The company’s public discussion of testing Cialis in children centered around the likely financial perks of having a longer monopoly on the drug for use in adults,” reports Politico, “not the promise of a new treatment for seriously ill children.”
They were not alone. Aaron Kesselheim, a drug price expert at Harvard, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that “Pediatric trials have been conducted on a number of products with marginal public health importance for children, and the drugs most frequently used by children have been underrepresented; instead pediatric exclusivity studies have tended to involve drugs that were both popular and profitable in the market for adults.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) met with Azar and came away skeptical: “I told you in my office you’ve got some convincing to make me believe that you’re going to represent the American people and not big pharma.”
“I know that’s insulting,” adds Paul, “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,” continues Paul, “because big pharma manipulates the system to keep prices high….you need to convince those of us who are skeptical that you’ll be part of fixing it and won’t beholden to big pharma.”
If Azar is like pretty much every other Trump nominee, he will say what the Senators want to hear to win confirmation and then do what he and Trump always do – cater to the big companies, be at the call of the big money and screw the consumers again and again.
The post Trump’s new HHS Secretary nominee just surged into the spotlight for testing Cialis on kids appeared first on Washington Press.