Regulatory Focus™ > News Articles > HHS Secretary Nominee Azar: Top Priority is Drug Prices

HHS Secretary Nominee Azar: Top Priority is Drug Prices

Posted 29 November 2017 | By Zachary Brennan 

HHS Secretary Nominee Azar: Top Priority is Drug Prices

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Wednesday grilled President Donald Trump's HHS secretary nominee and former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar on drug prices, and he vowed that the issue would be his top priority.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and others questioned Azar on how he would oversee an industry that he used to work for.

"I don't have pharma's policy agenda," Azar said in response to a question on which parts he disagrees with. "I don't know what they're interested in, my focus is the president's agenda, not the interest of any trade group or agenda. This is the most important job I will ever have in my lifetime."

Among the more specific proposals, Azar said he would look to for drug prices was the idea to take what HHS has learned from negotiating drug prices for Medicare Part D and apply that to establishing new negotiations on prices for Part B.

Azar also said he would work with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to focus on pharmaceutical company abuses of the patent system that restrict the influx of generic drugs, though he noted that statutory changes may be necessary.

Though when asked why his former company continues to raise the list price of its insulin products, Azar pointed to "the system," which he said, "everyone owns a piece" of, including the government.

And when Paul raised the idea of importing drugs from cheaper markets, like the EU or Canada, Azar pushed back with questions of safety, which Paul called a canard.

"It's not Big Pharma's fault," Paul said, referring to the rising drug prices and why the US pays more than the EU, Canada and Japan for the same pharmaceuticals. "We're letting them do it."

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