November 28, 2017

Warren Questions HHS Secretary Designate Azar in Advance of Confirmation Hearing

Raises Concerns Regarding Tenure at Eli Lilly, Opposition to ACA, Priorities for HHS

Text of the letter available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent a 21-page letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Nominee, Alex Azar, outlining 68 questions on a range of subjects concerning his views on issues before the department, as well as his tenure at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and his opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The letter was sent in advance of Mr. Azar's confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) scheduled for Wednesday.

"In announcing your nomination, the President promised that you would be ‘a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!' I have several concerns about your ability to carry out the President's promises," wrote Senator Warren. 

Senator Warren raised concerns about Mr. Azar's track record at Eli Lilly, where he worked from 2007 to 2017, including five years as the president of its largest affiliate, Lilly USA. She questioned his commitment to reducing the consumer costs of prescription drugs, noting that while Mr. Azar was at the helm, Eli Lilly raised the cost of one of its insulin products by 325 percent over five years. Lilly's insulin pricing is currently under investigation. Senator Warren also cited industry analysts who believe Mr. Azar will "continue to pursue relatively pharma-friendly approaches to drug pricing."

In addition, Senator Warren questioned Mr. Azar's criticism of the ACA, which he would be responsible for implementing if confirmed as HHS Secretary.  "Your outspoken criticism of the ACA - at a time when bipartisan healthcare leadership is so sorely needed - calls into question your ability to provide Americans with ‘better healthcare,'" wrote the senator. "You have opposed the Affordable Care Act and, in recent months, have ignored and denied the Trump Administration's efforts to undermine it."

In the letter, Senator Warren also questioned Mr. Azar's views on a number of other important issues that would fall within the HHS Secretary's purview, including behavioral healthcare coverage, funding for biomedical research, healthcare for women and LGBTQ Americans, cuts to Medicaid, combatting the opioid epidemic, and protecting vulnerable nursing home residents. 

"As a member of the HELP Committee, I am deeply committed to developing an informed and complete assessment of your suitability to lead the Department of Health and Human Services," wrote Senator Warren. Her letter to Mr. Azar follows a similar document sent to President Trump's first HHS Secretary, Tom Price, who was forced to resign in September after spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary chartered flights. Mr. Price was initially sworn in after a rushed confirmation process left key questions about his suitability for the job unanswered.