Now that Congress has passed the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax bill, the Senate will soon vote on President Trump’s nomination of former drug company CEO Alex Azar to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Republicans will be eager to get him confirmed and on the job. Considering Azar’s background, they have good reason to believe he’ll be a reliable ally when they get to work on their next big goal: slashing spending on health care programs, Medicare in particular.
If confirmed, Azar will be the first pharmaceutical industry executive to head HHS. During his tenure at Eli Lilly & Company, he oversaw big increases in the price of a number of the company’s drugs. But his corporate job is not the only reason to expect he’ll listen more to industry lobbyists than patient and consumer rights advocates. For other hints, we need to look at his past roles at influential lobbying and PR groups that represent not only drug makers but insurance companies, hospitals, medical device manufacturers and other big companies.
Azar served for several years as a member of the board of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC). All three exist to protect and enhance what has become a very profitable status quo for their members.
In my former job as a health insurance executive, I worked closely with both NAM and the HLC when lawmakers in Washington were considering proposals that the groups feared might affect the profits of member companies in some adverse way.
The insurance industry often called on NAM to disseminate talking points that would have been perceived as self-serving, and rightly so, if they came directly from insurers. NAM was a willing ally because of a shared belief that any new regulations, whether affecting insurers or manufacturers, should be opposed—unless, of course, a proposed regulatory change would benefit the corporations they represented.