Trump said of Azar, who was confirmed by a vote of 55 to 43 on January 24 to replace Tom Price, MD, as Secretary of HHS, “He’s going to get those prescription drug prices way down…it’s going to come rocketing down.”
In yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony for Alex Azar, the new Secretary of HHS, President Donald Trump promised that the price of prescription drugs will plummet under Azar’s leadership.
Trump said of Azar, who was confirmed by a vote of 55 to 43 on January 24 to replace Tom Price, MD, “He’s going to get those prescription drug prices way down…it’s going to come rocketing down.”
Trump pointed to Azar’s time as president of Eli Lilly, which Trump referred to as a “great company” where Azar “did an incredible job,” as evidence of Azar’s know-how in driving down the high cost of drugs. “We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down, and unravel the tangled web of special interests that are driving prices up for medicine…you look at other countries, they pay a fraction for the exact same drug. The exact same pill in an identical box from the same factory costs us…many times more…nobody knows that process better than Alex.”
Azar, too, has acknowledged the problem of that tangled web’s role in skyrocketing drug prices. The New York Times reports that, at a symposium at the Manhattan Institute, Azar criticized industry for profiting off steadily increasing the list prices of drugs, saying that “All players—wholesalers like McKesson and Cardinal, pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, pharmacy benefit managers like Express Scripts and CVS Caremark, and drug companies—make more money when list prices increase.” He added that “The unfortunate victims of these trends are patients.”
Yet some lawmakers have questioned Azar’s commitment to seeing list prices reduced. During the confirmation process, Kaiser Health News reports, Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon, pointed out that drug prices rose at Eli Lilly under Azar’s leadership and that Azar had never authorized a decrease in a drug’s price during his time as a pharmaceutical executive.
Under questioning from Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Azar returned to the theme of external interests playing a key role in keeping list prices high, saying of the price hikes at Eli Lilly, “This is what is so bizarre about the way the system is organized. Those price increases happen—and my former employer has said this publicly—during that same period, the net realized price by the company stayed flat…just to cover for increased rebates."
Azar has not yet outlined a plan to address high list prices, although the government's negotiating prices for Medicare appears to be off the table. While Trump has endorsed the idea—saying, “We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don't bid properly. We're going to start bidding. We're going to save billions of dollars over a period of time”—Azar has said that, “For the government to negotiate there, we would have to have a single national formulary that restricted access to all seniors for medicines. I don’t believe we want to go there in restricting patient access.”