[Ip-health] Alex Azar is big pharma personified

Gabriel Levitt gabriel.levitt at gmail.com
Fri Dec 1 07:54:51 PST 2017

Proud to be another voice against Alex Azar’s nomination in The Guardian


Alex Azar is big pharma personified. He must not become US health secretary

By Gabriel Levitt, December 1st.

Recently, the president announced Alex Azar as his nominee to lead the US
Department of Health and Human Services, saying: “He will be a star for
better healthcare and lower drug prices!” People like me – experts in drug
policy and advocates for lowering drug costs for American patients – know
that nothing could be farther from the truth.

On average, Americans pay twice as much for life-saving drugs as consumers
in other developed countries. It doesn’t have to be this way, but
unfortunately Azar might think so.

On Wednesday, Azar appeared before the Senate health, education, labor and
pensions committee. While he stated his commitment to lowering drug prices,
he declined to support the two solutions that would have the greatest
impact for patients. In fact, he and his company have vigorously opposed
policies that would make healthcare more affordable for the rest of us.

One commonsense solution would be to allow the lawful importation of lower
cost prescription drugs from Canada and European Union countries with
strong drug safety regulations, allowing more competition in the market and
thus lowering the price of drugs across the board.

Drug companies such as Eli Lilly, which Azar headed as president, oppose
such importation, citing safety concerns. Study after study – and
independent medical experts – have repudiated this claim. Not only has Azar
publicly opposed importing drugs from other countries, he went on Fox News
to encourage the administration to pressure Europe to raise prices.

A second solution would be to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. In
2015, the prescription drug bill for the approximately 54 million Americans
on Medicare was $161.9bn. In other terms, 1% of the world’s population
contributed to 17% of the $936bn worldwide prescription drug market.
Americans older than 55 are over five times less likely to fill a
prescription because of cost than in the UK, and 10 times less likely than
in France. About 45 million Americans report that they are not filling
their prescriptions due to cost.

This is an absurd tragedy in one of the world’s wealthiest countries – and
one that Azar has facilitated. The pharmaceutical industry used its full
force and might
push lawmakers to drop Medicare drug price negotiations and importation
from the Affordable Care Act. Azar’s company, Lilly USA, spent $5.7m on
lobbying in 2016 alone.

Azar’s views are out of step with those of most Americans. According to
polling done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 92% of independents, 96% of
Democrats, and 92% of Republicans are in favor of allowing Medicare to
negotiate drug prices; 72% of Americans
support being able to import lower cost medication from Canada.

Trump, rather than following through on his campaign promise to control
skyrocketing drug prices, has instead nominated the personification of the
drug price problem. Azar is a man who has profited immensely from the
industry’s inflated drug prices – at the expense of millions of average
Americans who need these drugs to survive.

What scares me is that Azar may actually believe the system is as it should
be. How can we ever tackle the crisis of high drug prices when the person
in charge of regulating healthcare in America has profited from big
pharma’s unethical practices?

By confirming Alex Azar, the Senate would be handing the pharmaceutical
industry its biggest lobbying victory ever. For America’s patients,
children, and elderly, the Senate must vote no to Alex Azar.

Gabriel Levitt is the founder of Prescription Justice
<http://prescriptionjustice.org/>, a non-profit organization of doctors,
lawyers, public health advocates and companies dedicated to lowering drug
prices in the US.

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