The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Lighty, 510-772-8384, or Charles Idelson, 510-273-2246

Nurses Call On Senate to Reject Alex Azar As HHS Secretary

Ex-Pharma Executive’s History with Price Gouging a Major Concern.


Citing his responsibility for "blatant price gouging" that posed severe harm for people with diabetes, and support for cuts in the vital Medicaid program, National Nurses United (NNU) is urging the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the full Senate, to reject the nomination of Alex Azar as the next Trump administration's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

In a letter to Committee members Friday, NNU co-presidents Deborah Burger, RN and Jean Ross, RN emphasized Azar's role as the former president of Lilly USA, the largest affiliate of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. In that role Azar "was directly responsible for price-gouging millions of patients in order to increase profits," Burger and Ross wrote.

"Under his leadership, the company raised the price of their insulin brand - Humalog - by more than 300% in seven years, causing a crisis for millions of people living with diabetes. As a result, many patients began to skip refills or inject expired insulin because they could not afford the price hike. Insulin is a life saving medication for people with diabetes. Rationing insulin can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, infections, blindness, and death."

Lilly also "faced multiple lawsuits and criminal fines due to unethical practices," including, according to a 2012 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint, charges of bribes to government officials in Russia, China, Brazil and Poland to purchase and or promote Lilly drugs.

Further, Lilly's decision to exploit the controversial, corporate-oriented investor state dispute settlement process, which threatens national sovereignty, against the government of Canada in 2013 after Canada refused to issue new patents for Lilly products, is a clear indication of Lilly and Azar's prioritizing private profits over public health, NNU contends.

"Our country is facing a crisis of access to affordable medications," Burger and Ross wrote. "The Secretary of Health and Human Services needs to be someone who will advocate for our patients and our health care system. It is unacceptable for the United States Senate to give the reigns of our country's health system to a pharmaceutical executive who has willingly endangered the lives of millions of Americans."

NNU also opposes Azar due to his public testimony in support of converting Medicaid funding into block grants, a transparent proposal to sharply reduce Medicaid funding "snatching away health insurance for millions of patients, particularly affecting long term care for the elderly, and people with disabilities."

Azar has further refused to support contraceptive coverage by insurers and embraced the Republican-led crusade to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, which Burger and Ross note "would only exacerbate a healthcare crisis many Americans continue to experience."

National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.

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