Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"It's hard to imagine a worse choice for America," concluded Philly.com columnist Will Bunch. (Photo: Worldwide Speakers Group)

'Why Not Freddy Krueger?' Trump Picks Big Pharma Exec Alex Azar to Head HHS

"Just when you think it can't get anymore disgraceful. Pity the poor people who need medication and safety—that would be all of us."

Jake Johnson

In a move critics said betrays President Donald Trump's expressed commitment to lowering drug prices and taking on the power of Big Pharma, Trump on Monday announced that he has chosen Alex Azar, former top executive of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"It would be unrealistic to expect a reformer from Trump, but a professional apologist for this abusive industry is an insult to us all."
—Will Bunch, Philly.com

While Trump insisted in a tweet on Monday that Azar "will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices," many argued that the president's choice of an industry insider will only be a further boost for the bottom lines of drug companies—and a disaster for public health.

"Trump tells us Azar will be a 'star' who will lower prescription prices. Maybe he should have asked the six million diabetic Americans whose insulin prices have more than tripled under Azar's watch at Eli Lilly," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement. "Eli Lilly is notorious for spiking prices of this century-old isolated hormone. During Azar's tenure as president and vice president, Eli Lilly raised the price of Humalog by 345 percent from $2,657.88 per year to $9,172.80 per year."

"Why not Freddy Krueger?" RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, wrote on Twitter following Trump's announcement. "Just when you think it can't get anymore disgraceful. Pity the poor people who need medication and safety—that would be all of us."

If approved, Azar will be deeply involved in regulating the industry he has worked for over the last decade. "Even for D.C.'s ever-spinning revolving door, Alex Azar is a pretty blatant case," The Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay noted, highlighting the fact that Azar previously served as deputy HHS secretary under George W. Bush before joining the pharma giant Eli Lilly in 2007 as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications. In 2012, Azar became president of Lilly's U.S. operations, a position he held until January of this year.

As Common Dreams reported last month, consumer advocates have been raising alarm about Azar's nomination since news reports emerged suggesting he was Trump's top choice. In a recent statement, Public Citizen warned that "if Alex Azar is confirmed as HHS secretary, Big Pharma's coup of the healthcare sphere will be virtually complete."

"Americans understand, passionately, that drug company price gouging leads to rationing of care. It is unethical and must end," added Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. "But it is highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company executive who has made passionate arguments against price restraints is going to advance real reform."

"It is highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company executive who has made passionate arguments against price restraints is going to advance real reform."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
Azar has made clear in recent public appearances that he sides with Trump and the GOP in their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which—if successful—would strip healthcare from tens of millions of Americans. Azar has also expressed opposition to Medicaid expansion and backed right-wing efforts to turn the program into block grants.

As The Daily Beast's Sam Stein notes, Trump's decision to tap an industry favorite like Azar for a key cabinet position is hardly surprising, given that more than 50 percent of the president's nominees for Senate-confirmed administration spots "have ties to the industries they're supposed to regulate."

"It's hard to imagine a worse choice for America," Philly.com columnist Will Bunch wrote of Azar, pointing to the pharmaceutical industry's role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic. "It would be unrealistic to expect a reformer from Trump, but a professional apologist for this abusive industry is an insult to us all."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Fears of Escalation as Ukraine Answers Russian Missile Onslaught With Strike Deep Inside Invader's Territory

Ukrainian drones bombed two air bases more than 300 miles inside Russia, reportedly killing three soldiers, wounding four others, and damaging multiple warplanes.

Brett Wilkins ·


Patient Groups Push Congress to Combat Big Pharma Greed in Spending Bill

"As Congress works toward finalizing an end-of-year budget package, we urge the chambers to include bipartisan legislation to address abuse of the Food and Drug Administration's citizen petition process in order to reduce drug prices and save the government hundreds of millions of dollars."

Brett Wilkins ·


10,000+ Sign Open Letter Demanding Biden Order Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers

"No one, especially in the world's richest nation, should have to choose between forgoing pay or working through severe illness and family emergencies," says The Lever's letter.

Jessica Corbett ·


Right-Wing SCOTUS Majority Signals Support for Anti-LGBTQ+ Reactionaries

"It does not bode well for the future of civil rights law that Gorsuch believes a state imposes 'reeducation training' on employers when it reminds them how to comply with nondiscrimination rules," said one court observer.

Julia Conley ·


Report Reveals Corporate Capture of Global Biodiversity Efforts Ahead of Summit

"Their 'solutions' are carefully crafted in order to not undermine their business models; ultimately they do nothing for the environment," said one Friends of the Earth campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo