Oh, No, a Pharma Exec

As a businessman, Alex Azar raised drug prices. String him up.


Alex Azar, the former deputy Health and Human Services secretary, in 2005.
Alex Azar, the former deputy Health and Human Services secretary, in 2005. PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES/REUTERS

One reason men and women in business are reluctant to go to Washington is the reception accorded Alex Azar Monday after President Trump said he will nominate the former Eli Lilly & Co. executive to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Mr. Azar was immediately criticized for, well, knowing too much about health care.

“It’s a pharma fox to run the HHS henhouse,” a talking head from Public Citizen told the Washington Post, which headlined the same piece “Trump’s pick to lower drug prices is a former pharma executive who raised them.” It seems that when Mr. Azar was president, Lilly “doubled the U.S. list price of its top-selling insulin drug.”

Well, sure, pharma executives are paid by shareholders to make money selling drugs. Profits drive drug innovation, so there wouldn’t be better treatments without profits, which sometimes requires raising prices. Pardon the reality of market economics. 

No doubt Mr. Azar’s record will be parsed by Senate Democrats, but it’s always possible that knowing the industry makes Mr. Azar the right man to regulate it. He can’t do any worse than the Obama Administration, which cut a political deal with Big Pharma on drug pricing to win its support for ObamaCare. Mr. Azar has been a critic of ObamaCare, which may be the real explanation for the instant opposition.

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