Nov 29, 2017

HHS nominee: "Drug prices are too high"

Azar said there are problems with drug prices "across the entire channel." Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, came out of the gate Wednesday with a statement that was obvious but needed to try to win over critics of his drug industry experience: "Drug prices are too high." Here's what he told the Senate HELP Committee during his hearing.

  • The drug pricing system is "not working for patients that pay out of pocket," said Azar, who used to work at drug giant Eli Lilly & Co. That references problems with high deductibles and insurance plans, but doesn't get at how drug companies actually set prices or address the overall high costs of the health care system.
  • Azar said there are problems with drug prices "across the entire channel." That statement indirectly points fingers toward pharmacy benefit managers, health insurers and drug distributors — and is a common refrain from the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Azar wants to "fight gaming" in the drug patent system, where pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly file multiple patents on the same drug to extend exclusive monopoly pricing.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who released a lengthy list of questions before the hearing, charged that Azar's background "reads like a how-to manual from profiting from government service."
  • She asked if Azar's former boss, retired Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, should have been held personally accountable for the company's fraudulent marketing of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, but Azar did not directly answer.
  • Sen. Rand Paul pressed Azar on his industry ties and encouraged him to support a policy of importing drugs safely from other countries, which Azar has publicly opposed.
  • Democratic senators were concerned Azar would continue the Trump administration's "sabotage" of the Affordable Care Act. Azar said he would "faithfully implement" the ACA "if it remains."
  • On growing health care costs: "Premiums have been skyrocketing year after year." That's true in the ACA's individual insurance markets, but not for people who get insurance through their jobs.
  • Azar used to work at HHS under President George W. Bush and tried to highlight his public experience and impartiality. "This is returning home."

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10:30 a.m. ET: 1,363,365— Total deaths: 76,420 — Total recoveries: 292,425Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10:30 a.m. ET: 368,533 — Total deaths: 11,008 — Total recoveries: 19,972Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: Peter Navarro warned White House colleagues in late January about the massive potential risks from the coronavirus.
  4. Public health update: Funeral homes are struggling to handle the pandemic.
  5. 2020 update: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks the governor's attempt to delay in-person primary voting until June.
  6. Tech update: YouTube has removed thousands of COVID-19 videos for violating policies related to spreading medical misinformation.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Stephanie Grisham out as White House press secretary

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is departing her post to return to the East Wing as First Lady Melania Trump's chief of staff, the White House announced Tuesday. The news was first reported by CNN.

Why it matters: Grisham will leave after nine months without ever having held a formal press briefing. Her departure follows the arrival of new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has a chance to overhaul a communications shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

WeWork board sues SoftBank

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

SoftBank was sued Tuesday morning by a special committee of WeWork's board of directors for alleged breaches of contract and fiduciary duty related to SoftBank's decision to cancel a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares.

Why it matters: SoftBank is viewed by many in the private markets as an unfaithful partner. If this reaches trial, that reputation could either become widely cemented or reversed.