With media reports indicating that President Donald Trump is leaning toward selecting former pharmaceutical industry executive Alex Azar to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen warned in a statement Wednesday that Azar's appointment would essentially complete "Big Pharma's coup of the healthcare sphere."
"Just days after denouncing 'out-of-control' drug prices, President Donald Trump appears set to show he doesn't mean it by naming a former pharmaceutical company executive to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,"
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen"Just days after denouncing 'out-of-control' drug prices, President Donald Trump appears set to show he doesn't mean it by naming a former pharmaceutical company executive to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. "In his public statements, Alex Azar has made clear that he is opposed to measures to restrain drug company profiteering and limit improper marketing and favors weaker drug safety approval standards."
Azar spent a decade as an executive with the pharma giant Eli Lilly, where he directed the company's sales operations. Before joining Eli Lilly, Azar served as deputy secretary of the HHS under George W. Bush.
As Politico reports, Azar also happens to be "one of the many drug industry executives" who contributed to Trump's presidential campaign—a fact that runs counter to the president's frequent criticism of elected officials who take cash from pharma executives.
If nominated, Azar would be filling the role left vacant by Tom Price, who resigned last month amid growing outrage over his use of private jets to travel across the U.S. on government business.
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Weissman argued on Wednesday that while Price was a supporter of the pharmaceutical industry, Azar would take Big Pharma's influence on American healthcare to the next level.
"The swamp only gets worse," Weisman said. "Trump has decided to cut out the middleman, and let a pharmaceutical executive literally run the health department."
Weissman concluded that Azar's nomination would effectively foreclose the possibility of any substantive steps toward tackling high drug prices or pharma monopolies.
"Americans understand, passionately, that drug company price gouging leads to rationing of care. It is unethical and must end," Weissman said. "But it is highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company executive who has made passionate arguments against price restraints is going to advance real reform."