HHS Nominee Vows To Tackle High Drug Costs, Despite His Ties To Industry

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Senate Democrats on Tuesday pressed President Donald Trump’s nominee for the highest well being publish to elucidate how he would combat skyrocketing drug costs — demanding to know why they need to belief him to decrease prices since he didn’t achieve this whereas working a significant pharmaceutical firm.

Alex M. Azar II, the previous president of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Trump’s decide to run the Department of Health and Human Services, introduced himself as a “problem solver” keen to repair a poorly structured well being care system throughout his affirmation listening to earlier than the Senate Finance Committee. Azar mentioned addressing drug prices can be amongst his high priorities.

But armed with charts displaying how a few of Eli Lilly’s drug costs had doubled on Azar’s watch, Democrats argued Azar was a part of the issue. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s high Democrat, mentioned Azar had by no means licensed a lower in a drug value as a pharmaceutical govt.

“The system is broken,” Wyden mentioned. “Mr. Azar was a part of that system.”

Azar countered that the nation’s pharmaceutical drug system is structured to encourage corporations to boost costs, an issue he mentioned he would work to repair as head of HHS.

“I don’t know that there is any drug price of a brand-new product that has ever gone down from any company on any drug in the United States, because every incentive in this system is towards higher prices, and that is where we can do things together, working as the government to get at this,” he mentioned. “No one company is going to fix that system.”

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Azar’s affirmation listening to Tuesday was his second look earlier than senators because the nominee to guide HHS. In November, he confronted comparable questions from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee throughout a courtesy listening to.

If confirmed, Azar would succeed Tom Price, Trump’s first well being secretary, who resigned in September amid criticism over his frequent use of taxpayer-paid constitution flights. A former Republican congressman who was a devoted opponent of President Barack Obama’s signature well being care regulation, Price had a frosty relationship with Democrats in Congress as he labored with Republicans to attempt to undo the regulation.

Price and the Trump administration typically turned to laws and govt orders to undermine the Affordable Care Act, since Republicans in Congress repeatedly did not enact a repeal. “Repeal and replace” has been the president’s mantra.

But on the listening to, Azar was circumspect about his method, noting that his job can be to work beneath present regulation. “The Affordable Care Act is there,” he mentioned, including that it will fall to him to make it work “as best as it possibly can.”

Senate Republicans touted Azar’s almost six years working for the division beneath President George W. Bush, together with two years as a deputy secretary. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Azar’s “extraordinary résumé,” including that, amongst HHS nominees, he was “probably the most qualified I’ve seen in my whole term in the United States Senate.” Hatch, who’s the longest-serving Republican senator in historical past, has been a senator for greater than 40 years.

In addition to drug prices, Azar vowed to concentrate on the nation’s rising opioid disaster, calling for “aggressive prevention, education, regulatory and enforcement efforts to stop overprescribing and overuse,” in addition to “compassionate treatment” for these affected by dependancy.

Pressed about Republican plans to chop entitlement spending to compensate for finances shortfalls, Azar mentioned he was “not aware” of assist inside the Trump administration for such cuts.

“The president has stated his opposition to cuts to Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security,” Azar mentioned. “He said that in the campaign, and I believe he has remained steadfast in his views on that.”

But Democrats pushed again, stating that Trump had proposed Medicaid cuts in his finances request final yr. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) mentioned such cuts would damage these receiving remedy for opioid dependancy.

“What happens to these people?” he mentioned.

Despite such Democratic criticism, Azar is more likely to be confirmed when the total Senate votes on his nomination. An HHS spokesman Tuesday pointed reporters to an editorial in STAT supporting Azar, written by former Senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle — a Republican and a Democrat. “We need a person of integrity and competence at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services,” they wrote. “The good news is that President Trump has nominated just such a person, Alex Azar.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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