On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, the Senate Finance Committee will vote on the confirmation of Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health. Azar has demonstrated during his career and through his testimony to the committee that he consistently prioritizes corporate profits over human needs. Read the Op Ed below for more information.

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Orrin Hatch (UT)   202 224 5251

Chuck Grassley (IA)   202 224 3744

Mike Crapo (ID)   202 224 6142

Pat Roberts (KS)   202 224 4774

Michael Enzi (WY)   202 224 3424

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Rob Portman (OH)   202 224 3353

Patrick Toomey (PA)   202 224 4254

Dean Heller (NV)   202 224 6244

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Ron Wyden (OR)   202 224 5244

Debbie Stabenow (MI)   202 224 4822

Maria Cantwell (WA)   202 224 3441

Bill Nelson (FL)   202 224 5274

Robert Menendez (NJ)   202 224 4744

Thomas Carper (DE)   202 224 2441

Ben Cardin (MD)   202 224 4524

Sherrod Brown (OH)   202 224 2315

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Bob Casey (PA)   202 224 6324

Mark Warner (VA)   202 224 2023

Claire McCaskill (MO)   202 224 6154

At a moment of great consequence for American health care, with drug prices skyrocketing and seemingly unchecked, there are myriad reasons why the Senate should oppose the nomination of former drug company executive Alex Azar for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Senators need look no further than his dismissive policy statements on the Affordable Care Act and women’s health, as well as his history of working to advance predatory pricing, including tripling the price of insulin, as outlined in this letter from over 60 groups opposing his nomination.

Evidence abounds that as leader of HHS, Azar would work against making affordable medicines accessible to all. As troubling as his record is for domestic drug pricing, however, the ramifications of Azar’s policy positions could be even more dire for people suffering without access to affordable medicines around the world.Azar has demonstrated an enthusiasm for exporting the same international property (IP) laws that have driven up drug costs in the U.S., through trade agreements that make affordable and safe medicine less accessible in other countries.

In theory, IP protection is a public policy instrument intended to stimulate innovation in exchange for technological advancement that benefits the public, and governments have a responsibility to balance promoting access to medicines with fostering innovation. As an Eli Lilly executive, Alex Azar went so far as to try to block other governments from using legal methods to increase access to affordable, life-saving medicines for their own people.

When Canada’s federal courts revoked Eli Lilly’s patents for the mental health drugs Strattera and Zyprexa in 2011 and 2013, due to lack of utility or added value, Eli Lilly had the temerity to claim that the Canadian government was violating its obligation to foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Eli Lilly brought a $500 million Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)case against Canada, seeking taxpayer compensation for lost profits. Although it lost the case, Eli Lilly’s overreach during Azar’s tenure revealed a new low in prioritizing drug company greed over decisions of sovereign judiciaries. That policy agenda alone should be disqualifying for someone seeking to lead an agency whose raison d’être is to make people healthier.

Confronting Azar with this particular stain on his resume is especially timely, as NAFTA renegotiation continues this month, and the U.S. Trade Representative is pushing secret IP provisions that may well be as bad or worse than the ones the U.S. advocated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — provisions that significantly skew that balance away from increased access to affordable medicines by unduly expanding drug company monopoly power.

With one of its own at the helm of HHS, the pharmaceutical industry would be poised for even greater profits paid for with our health. The Senate Finance Committee must assert its independence when it weighs Azar’s nomination during a hearing on Tuesday — and put to rest any concerns that the committee itself is influenced by $166,400 in contributions from Eli Lilly in 2016 alone.

Americans want government action to address the crisis of out of control domestic drug price increases, and they overwhelmingly support successful global health initiatives overseas like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. With Azar leading HHS, both would be imperiled. We need a credible advocate for patients, one who will take measures to curtail price gouging and limit corporate overreach in domestic and foreign rule making and enforcement.

HHS is tasked to provide leadership and expertise in global health diplomacy and policy to contribute to a safer, healthier world. The world deserves a Secretary who will neither misuse nor export our own deeply problematic drug monopoly regime to any other country. The Senate should cast off the influence of drug company campaign contributions and reject Mr. Azar’s nomination for this important post.

Hilary McQuie is the Director of U.S. Policy and Grassroots Mobilization at the Health Global Access Project (GAP), an international advocacy organization working for universal access to life-saving medicines for people living with HIV.



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