Health secretary nominee Azar says drug pricing a top priority
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alex Azar, a former drug industry executive who Republicans have nominated to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Wednesday promised to lower drug prices that he said are too high, saying he would look at abuse of patent laws that delays generic competition.
Azar, who worked at Eli Lilly & Co, said his top priorities would be drug pricing, affordable healthcare, Medicare innovation and the opioid crisis that has killed tens of thousands of Americans.
“The current system of pricing insulin and other medicines … that system is not working for the patients who have to pay out of pocket, and we have to recognize that impact,” Azar told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions during a hearing that is part of the confirmation process.
Both Democratic and Republican senators repeatedly pressed Azar, who is also a former drug industry lobbyist, on how he would rein in rising prescription drug prices.
The hearing grew contentious when Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed him on whether drug company chief executives should be held personally accountable for actions like price fixing and Azar declined to answer the question.
Two Democratic lawmakers last year called for a federal probe into whether Eli Lilly, Sanofi SA, Merck & Co and Novo Nordisk A/S colluded to set prices on insulin and other diabetes drugs.
Azar also said he would support a bipartisan Senate bill that would help stabilize the Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. But he said he did not think the measure was a long-term solution to “problems inherent in the Affordable Care Act.”