Two Major Players Missing from Yesterday’s Drug Hearing: Alex Azar and Eli Lilly

Big Pharma Increases Profits, Patients Pay More for Prescriptions, and Azar Escapes Scrutiny for His Role in Raising Drug Costs at Eli Lilly and HHS

WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee heard from seven pharmaceutical executives yesterday about the sky-high costs of prescription drugs, while Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar and Eli Lilly, the drug company he oversaw for years, got a free pass from testifying. While Azar was at the helm of the drug company, Lilly increased the price of insulin by 450 percent above inflation and three Eli Lilly drugs increased in price by 200-400 percent.

“It is amazing that HHS Secretary Alex Azar — and the drug company he led — were both able to evade testifying before the Senate Finance Committee today,” said Lizzy Price, spokesperson for Restore Public Trust. “Alex Azar and Eli Lilly are inextricably linked with increasing prices for life-saving drugs while taking in huge profits. It’s a big problem when the person charged with overseeing prescription drug costs previously oversaw a company make insulin too expensive for many Americans living with diabetes. It is no surprise that as the head of HHS, Azar has failed to take substantial steps to hold his pharma friends accountable while Americans are paying the price on a daily basis.”

During the hearing Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked if the executives used tax breaks to lower drug prices, AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez flat-out said no. This is notable because under Sec. Azar’s tenure at HHS, AbbVie has kept its hold over everyday Americans and recently announced a $5 billion stock buyback authorization.

Menendez: “Did any of you use your tax breaks to lower the cost of any of your prescription drugs?”

Gonzalez: “We did not use our tax breaks to lower the cost of prescription drugs. We used it for other aspects of trying to stimulate the economy and invest further into the U.S.”

 

In addition to the tax breaks that pharmaceutical companies received from the tax reform bill, taxpayers have also invested some $200 billion in grants to big pharma for the development of new medications. Yet, as Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) pointed out yesterday, their investments do not come back to them in the form of lower prescription drug costs and instead some pharmaceutical companies have profit margins as high as 20 percent.  

Stabenow: “…Let me just say, I think that you charge more here because you can and American taxpayers are subsidizing all of you to be able to have incredibly high profits, the fastest growing part of the heath care system and I think the people in Michigan and across the country deserve better. They need to be able to afford their medicine and not go to another country to get it.”

 

Earlier this month, Restore Public Trust released an ad highlighting Secretary Azar’s history as a pharmaceutical insider with a history of raising drug prices, proving he is the wrong person for the job.

A report from Restore Public trust found:

  • In 2016, Eli Lilly reported to investors that it raised prices on all its drugs by an average of 14 percent across the board. In 2015, prices rose by 16.3% across the board. In 2014, prices rose by 11.8% across the board. In 2013, prices rose by 15% across the board. In 2012, prices increased by 12.8% across the board.
  • Forteo, a drug for osteoporosis, rose by 68% between 2012 and 2015 alone. It was the single highest retail price increase for a specialty drug of its kind according to the AARP.
  • During Azar’s tenure, Eli Lilly increased the cost of Diabetes medication Humalog by 345%.

Read more about Azar’s history of increasing drug prices here.

 

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