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Secretary Azar of the United States Department of Health and Human Services on the Axios stage. Photo: Ralph Alswang for Axios

Wednesday morning, Axios Co-founder Mike Allen hosted a series of one-on-one conversations exploring the challenge of rising drug costs, how policymakers are tackling the problem, and what is at stake in the next election.

Senator Mike Braun, Indiana
Sen. Mike Braun on Wednesday morning. Photo: Ralph Alswang for Axios

Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) underscored his background in the private sector and discussed the role of CEO in making health care costs manageable for employees.

  • On covering workers: “I believe nobody should go broke because they get sick or have a bad accident.”
  • On engaging with nontraditional Republican issues like prescription drug prices and climate: "I think Conservatives and Republicans are foot-draggers when it comes to getting engaged in issues ... It’s in our DNA"
  • On whether Republicans are on the wrong side of history with Medicare-for-All: "They will be if we can’t convince the industry to reform itself … We need to preserve the best of what we have."
Representative Jan Schakowsky, Illinois
Rep. Schakowsky discusses drug pricing on the Axios stage on Wednesday. Photo: Ralph Alswang for Axios

Rep. Schakowsky (D-IL) focused on current legislative efforts to lower drug prices and the importance of generic drugs in this equation.

  • She discussed H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which has enough votes from Democrats to pass the House. She stressed that Democrats will pass it regardless, but want bipartisan support; for some Republicans, it is at their peril that they would vote against a piece of legislation to lower drug prices.
  • On her dedication to reducing drug prices: "I was able to work on the first bill in the Illinois state legislature to introduce generic drugs … [drug pricing] was a problem then, and it’s only a problem that’s gotten worse."
Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon
Sen. Wyden in conversation with Mike Allen. Photo: Ralph Alswang for Axios

Sen. Wyden (D-OR) discussed price gouging people who depend on medication, noting the severe impact this has on seniors. Highlighting his work with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), he emphasized how reducing drug pricing is a bipartisan subject.

  • On price gouging in health care: "The price of insulin has gone up 13 times, but the drug isn't 13 times better."
  • On passing bills before 2020: "These next few months will be a litmus test of whether Congress is going to be for the patient, the consumer — or for Big Pharma."
Secretary Azar, United States Department of Health and Human Services

Sec. Azar focused on efforts to reduce drug pricing through the private sector, specifically in the creation of a transparent marketplace that would align Medicare coverage of certain prescription drugs with what other major countries pay.

  • On the president's take on drug pricing: "[Trump's] view — which he’s articulated publicly — is that America ought to be getting the best deal among developed countries. That is the terminology of most favored nation status."
  • On how broad the health care discussion is: "We spend so much time talking about Obamacare, but it’s actually a small slice of health care in the US. We’ve got to focus on protecting what works, and making it better in the rest of our system."
  • When asked by Axios' Caitlin Owens if there is ever a case for government regulating health care costs, he replied: "I’d much rather create market-based incentives … How do we enable that marketplace to function?"

Thank you, AARP for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
46 mins ago - Technology

Intel CEO wants to compete against Apple

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger hasn't given up on the idea of the Mac once again using Intel chips, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

  • In the meantime, he is focused on powering Windows machines that give Apple CEO Tim Cook a run for his money.

Why it matters: In getting pushed out of the Mac, Intel not only lost a customer, but picked up a new rival.

51 mins ago - Health

Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in an "Axios on HBO" interview, said he's reluctant to withhold federal funding from states that won't enforce school mask mandates because he doesn't want to hurt students.

Why it matters: Cardona's comments suggest there are limits to how far the Biden administration will go in pressuring states to adopt universal masking — or vaccine mandates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Axios on HBO

GOP senator smacks Trump

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told “Axios on HBO” he’s not sure former President Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination if he ran in 2024 — a rare voice of criticism from within the party.

  • When I raised the conventional wisdom that Trump would be expected to win the nomination, Cassidy jumped in.“
  • I don't know that,” the senator said during our interview in Chalmette, La.