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Alex Azar, nominee to run HHS, worked at Eli Lilly for almost 10 years. Photo: Darron Cummings / AP

President Trump has said drug companies are "getting away with murder" and vowed to bring down their prices. But Alex Azar, his pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department, is a 10-year veteran of pharma giant Eli Lilly, and has endorsed the same free-market philosophy as other conservative business leaders.

The bottom line: There's no indication in Azar's words or deeds that he's likely to pursue large-scale pricing reforms.

If he's confirmed, Azar would likely keep moving HHS down the same path that Tom Price was pursuing — loosening or changing regulations when possible to the benefit of certain health care industry players.

  • Azar, in frequent appearances on Stuart Varney's conservative Fox Business show, echoed the drug industry's argument that health insurance plans should get more scrutiny in the drug-pricing debate because they expose people to high out-of-pocket costs for their prescriptions.
  • "The issue shouldn't be just to focus on drug prices," he said in one appearance. "The issue is what are people paying when they go to the pharmacy to get their drugs."
  • In a Fox Business interview, Azar also encouraged Trump's trade negotiators to "get [Europe] off the free ride on the investment and innovation" for pharmaceuticals, saying Europe has "radical price controls."

Eli Lilly significantly hiked the price of its insulin products while Azar was its president.

  • Lilly is one of three drug companies at the center of a class-action lawsuit that accuses insulin makers and pharmacy benefit managers of colluding to jack up their prices.
  • Lilly USA hired two lobbying firms during Azar's tenure, according to federal records: FrogueClark, founded by Jim Frogue and Brandon Clark; and Forge Federal Affairs, led by Julian Haywood. Frogue was Donald Trump's senior health policy adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign. Frogue and Haywood did not respond to interview requests.

Azar sits on the board of HMS, a publicly traded company that audits health care payments for accuracy, and he has indicated his support for private companies auditing federal health care programs. The federal government hires HMS and other so-called recovery audit contractors to claw back overpayments made to providers by Medicare or Medicaid. Hospitals loathe the process and have called the contractors "bounty hunters."

What they're saying: Per Spencer Perlman, a health care analyst at Veda Partners: "We expect that HHS under Mr. Azar's leadership will continue to pursue relatively pharma-friendly approaches to drug pricing, such as value-based purchasing initiatives and cutting red tape at the Food and Drug Administration."

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.