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Trump’s Pick for HHS Secretary Has Deep Ties to Big Pharma

Alex Azar (Evan Vucci/AP Images)
Alex Azar (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Updated Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, 1:30 p.m. EST: Slate reports that Alex Azar, President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, left his job overseeing an Eli Lilly investigation to become the pharmaceutical company’s top lobbyist.


From 2001 to 2005, Azar was the Department of Health and Human Services’ general counsel and after that, from 2005 to 2007, was deputy secretary of the agency. Also, Slate reports:

Between 1999 and 2005, according to an investigation carried out by—among others—the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel, Eli Lilly engaged in systematic and illegal off-label sales of a psychiatric drug called Zyprexa. It also “caused false claims for payment to be submitted to federal insurance programs.”


In 2007 Azar left HHS to become the senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Eli Lilly, which means that he was chief lobbyist. So first he investigated them, then he went to join ’em.

In 2009, with Azar still leading Lilly’s public affairs and lobbying efforts, the company settled all criminal and civil federal allegations against it related to Zyprexa. In the settlement, Lilly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge and agreed to pay a fine of $1.415 billion—which seems like a lot, except that the company would go on in that same year to make nearly three times that amount in profit from that one drug.

Fox, meet the hens.


Yet another fox in the hen house? On Monday, President Donald Trump nominated Alex Azar, who was most recently president of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly USA, as new head of the Department of Health and Human Services.


Former HHS head Tom Price resigned in January after he took more than $1 million in private flights at taxpayers’ expense.


Of course, the president announced his nomination via Tweet:


The Hill says that Azar’s role would be “high-profile, tasked with overseeing various facets of health care, from Medicare and Medicaid to drug approvals and disease control—and most controversially, the implementation of the health-care law Republicans want to tear down.”

Before working at Lilly, where Azar spent nearly 10 years, he was No. 2 at HHS, under Secretary Mike Leavitt, in the George W. Bush administration, where he was tasked with overseeing the department’s regulatory process. Someone familiar with the regulatory process could be important for Trump, who is examining ways to unwind Obamacare through executive action and not through Congress.


Because of that, many predict that the Democrats will give Azar a hard time in the confirmation process.

But just like an education secretary with no education experience (and reportedly on her way out), an energy secretary with ties to oil and an Environmental Protection Agency head who doesn’t believe in climate change, why shouldn’t someone with deep, deep ties to big pharma be running a department tasked with our drug pricing and national health insurance?


Read more at The Hill.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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Manitos, The Tiny Hands of Trump

So how long til we find out about his ties to Russia? Two weeks? Three? We could probably start a pool.