HHS nominee made millions in pharma

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 - Alex Azar
Alex Azar

Alex Azar, President Donald Trump’s nominee for HHS Secretary, was paid nearly $2 million in his final year as an executive at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and built a portfolio worth as much as $20.6 million in his nearly 10-year tenure at the company.

The details of Azar’s wealth come from financial disclosures submitted ahead of his first confirmation hearing before the Senate health committee, scheduled for Nov. 29. In his last full year at Eli Lilly, Azar was paid $2 million and made another $1.6 million in severance. He also sold off $3.4 million in Eli Lilly stock, declaring between $100,000 to $1 million in capital gains from those sales.

“I no longer hold any Eli Lilly & Co. stock,” Azar said in his disclosure.

He was also made paid more than $700,000 at the end of his tenure for a variety of other reasons, including unused vacation time. He went on to found a consulting company, which counted the National Pharmaceutical Council and drugmaker UCB among its clients.

Azar’s time at Eli Lilly is likely to be the focus of his confirmation for Democrats. His time at the company coincided with several controversies, such as a $1.4 billion settlement to the federal government over improper marketing of Zyprexa, a schizophrenia medication, and steep hikes in the list price for its insulin products. Its 20-year-old insulin, Humalog, increased in price from $21 a vial in 1996 to $255 in 2016.

Those prices continued rising when Azar was president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations. According to CNBC, the price of its insulin drugs Humalog and Humulin N rose nearly 21 percent in 2014 and 17 percent in 2015.

Azar’s pharmaceutical ties have led one member of the Senate health committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, to preemptively announce that he would “vigorously oppose this nomination.”

“During Mr. Azar’s tenure at Eli Lilly, this multi-billion-dollar corporation dodged taxes while charging Americans outrageously high prices for life-saving prescription drugs,” Sanders said in a statement. “We need an HHS secretary who is willing to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower prescription drug prices, not one who has financially benefitted from this greed.”

Other issues likely to be raised would be his views on the Affordable Care Act, which he had proclaimed as “circling the drain” in May, his advocacy for turning Medicaid into a block grant program and his skepticism of value-based care.

Like previous HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, Azar appears to have the support of the Republicans who would be considering his nomination because of his opposition to the ACA.

“For too long, hardworking, middle-class families have been forced to bear the brunt of Obamacare’s failures in the form of higher premiums and fewer choices. The leader of HHS will be at the tip of the spear, working to not only right the wrongs of this deeply flawed law but also ensure the long-term sustainability of both Medicare and Medicaid,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.