Republicans were two votes shy of making former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. 6 Democrats made it possible.
According to the roll call vote on the official U.S. Senate website, Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Doug Jones (D-Alabama) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) all voted for Azar’s confirmation in the 55-43 vote. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, also voted to confirm Azar. Republican Rand Paul was the lone GOP vote against Azar, with Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and John McCain (R-Arizona) not voting. If those 6 Democrats and Sen. King voted no, Azar’s confirmation would have failed.
Between 2012 and 2017, Azar was president of pharma giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. division, and oversaw dramatic increases in the prices of life-saving drugs — namely insulin. As Politico reported in November, Eli Lilly jacked up the price of its Humulin R U-500 drug by 325 percent between 2010 and 2015. That same article noted how despite President Trump’s campaigning on lowering prescription drug prices, Azar is a crusader against ideas that would make drug prices more competitive:
[Azar]’s spoken out against studies known as comparative effectiveness research, used to determine which drugs are most cost-effective for treating patients with a disease. He argues that all options should be available since different patients may need different medicines. The problem however, is that if payers must make all drugs available, they have little leverage to negotiate lower drug prices with industry.
Azar has also served on the board of a company that specializes in helping public and private sector healthcare providers find loopholes to exploit in order to avoid paying health benefits. As GritPost contributor Ken Klippenstein recently reported in TYT Investigates, Azar served on the board of the Texas-based HMS Holdings Corp. between October of 2016 and November of 2017.
“I look forward to joining the HMS Board and utilizing my public and private healthcare experience to contribute to its strategic discussion about ongoing efforts by HMS to develop and acquire solutions for payers that help bend the cost curve,” Azar said in a corporate press release issued in October of 2016.
5 of the 6 Democrats who supported Azar — Sens. Carper, Donnelly, Heitkamp, King, and Manchin — are all up for re-election in 2018. Donnelly currently does not have a primary opponent.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.