During Azar’s tenure at drug-giant Eli Lilly, the company increased the price of top-selling insulin drug, Humalog, by 345%
WASHINGTON — In an interview with CNBC last night, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar fumbled tough questions about his history as an executive at Eli Lilly during a period when the company hiked the price of several lifesaving drugs, including insulin. Hosts asked Azar how he could lower prices as Secretary when he “helped push prices up” at Eli Lilly, and was called out for being “part of the system that drove prices higher.”
“Secretary Azar is finally being called out for what he truly is: a pharmaceutical insider who helped Eli Lilly profit off the backs of patients,” said Lizzy Price, Director of Restore Public Trust. “Azar is being rightly questioned about his ability to lower drug prices because his story just doesn’t add up. Azar helped build the drug pricing system that benefits big pharma and has failed to protect Americans from that system as HHS Secretary. His former employer and other pharmaceutical giants have doubled down to increase their influence over Washington and with Azar in power, who will stand up for those suffering at the expense of big pharma’s greed?”
“Public servants are supposed to serve the public’s interest, not the interests of big corporations. It is time to bring Azar’s shadowy past into the light.”
Disclosure reports reveal Eli Lilly topped Q2 earnings estimates and spent $2.3 million on lobbying in the first half of 2019. Attorneys General in several states are reportedly investigating insulin drug pricing by Eli Lilly, including charges of price-fixing that would have occurred during Azar’s tenure. Eli Lilly is also named as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit alleging price-fixing during Azar’s tenure at the company.
Secretary Azar is one of many officials in the Trump administration with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Last month, Restore Public Trust launched the website, BigPharmasBestFriends.org, to expose the sixteen Trump administration officials who have made almost $6 million from the pharmaceutical industry while everyday Americans struggle to find the money for lifesaving drugs they need.
Sorkin: I have one final question for you. During your time at Eli Lilly, clearly you helped push prices up – I mean that was actually one of the critiques in your role – that you pushed prices up, insulin and other things. And I just wanted to get your sense in terms of your shift now. Is it a change in responsibilities that’s put you in this new position of wanting to lower the prices? Is it responsibility you think the executives have to do it themselves? Square the circle for those viewers who are asking the question.
Azar: Well listen, I’d love if drug company CEOs would lower their prices and some have on some of their products. We’ve seen that in reaction to President Trump’s leadership. But the simple fact is the entire system is designed where everybody profits from drug list prices increasing and rebates going up to the PBMs, the middle men.
Lee: But the question Mr. Secretary, is that you were a part of the system that drove prices higher.
Azar: Well that’s exactly why I can, as Secretary, lead this effort to change the rules of the road and change the system – because I know how that system works, that’s why I’ve got so much passion to fixing it. It is a broken system.
Lee: You know how much drug companies jacked up prices unfairly on the American consumer so that’s why you can undo that?
Azar: I can change the rules of the road and I’m working with Congress to change the rules of the road so that they have the financial incentives to actually have prices go down. You’re not going to get altruistic behavior by drug companies or anyone else just voluntarily saying I’m going to leave profitable money sitting by the sidelines and minimize shareholder value. You’ve got to change the rules of the road so that’s in their best interest if you want a sustainable system and that’s what the President and I are doing.