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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

1 hour ago - Sports

Unvaccinated athletes face 21-day quarantine at Beijing Olympics

Logos for the 2022 Winter Olympics at Yanqing Ice Festival in February 2021 in Beijing. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Athletes, staff members and journalists at the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be required to quarantine for three weeks, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) outlined in its newly-published "playbooks."

Why it matters: The quarantine period is longer than the Games themselves, meaning vaccinations or an earlier arrival date will be required to participate in or cover the Games.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

FTX CEO predicts more U.S. crypto flight

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

FTX doesn't look much like a company valued at $25 billion. Its new headquarters, located in a sleepy part of The Bahamas, is so nondescript as to not even have a sign. But it does expect to soon have neighbors.

Driving the news: Founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried tells "Axios on HBO" to expect "more and more crypto flight from the states" if the U.S. doesn't soon create a regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies.

Developed countries reveal $100 billion climate finance plan ahead of COP26

Alok Sharma, head of the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, speaks in Paris on Oct. 12. ( Li Yang/China News Service via Getty Images)

After 12 years of fits and starts, industrialized nations on Monday put forward a detailed plan to provide at least $100 billion annually in climate aid to developing countries starting by 2023.

Why it matters: The plan, presented by representatives of Canada and Germany, is aimed at defusing one of the biggest sources of tension at COP26, which is the failure of industrialized nations to follow through on their financial commitments.

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