Rising drug prices are a serious health threat to millions of Americans. To take an example, cancer drugs that are priced at more than $100,000 a year are forcing hundreds of thousands of cancer patients to delay care, ration their prescription use or skip drug treatment altogether.
President Donald Trump was right to say shortly before he took office that the pharmaceutical industry “is getting away with murder.” And he promised to bring drug prices down.
But Americans anxiously waiting for that to happen will be disappointed. The resignation of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in September was an opportunity for Trump. At a time when drug prices continue to rise, and are expected to rise even more in 2018, he could have selected a warrior for working families well-suited to confront Big Pharma.
Instead, this week Trump announced his choice of Alex Azar, a former Big Pharma executive, to lead HHS. Which, as many have pointed out, is like making the fox guard the henhouse.
Azar spent 10 years at Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceutical company with offices in 18 countries. Under his watch as president of Lilly USA, the American division, the price of its insulin product tripled. A lawsuit filed earlier this year accuses Lilly and two other drug manufacturers of a conspiracy to drive up insulin prices at the expense of patients’ health. Many lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders have called for a federal investigation.
In addition, Azar is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which saves thousands of lives every year. And he supports converting Medicaid from an entitlement program into block grants, which could slash the number of people served over time.
More than ever before, Americans need affordable health care and cheaper prescription drugs. But like Tom Price before him, Azar will most likely be bad for your health.
American families have every reason to be disappointed with Trump’s choice, but they might not be surprised. Azar the Big Pharma executive follows Betsy DeVos, the anti-public education head of the Education Department; Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who once said he would abolish the Energy Department; and Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who seems determined to turn the EPA into a hub of climate change deniers.