Senators have reservations that a former “Big Pharma” executive will do anything to combat rising prescription drug prices and the opioid epidemic.
Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan both voted against confirming Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar was ultimately confirmed by a 55-43 vote, mostly along party lines.
ABC News reports, “Six Democratic senators and one independent voted to confirm Azar: Democrats Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and independent Angus King of Maine.”
After the vote, Senator Hassan had this to say:
“Communities across New Hampshire and the entire country continue to grapple with the devastating opioid epidemic, but the Trump Administration has failed to lead, including by not calling for additional federal resources. I was disappointed that Mr. Azar would not commit to advocating for new funding during his confirmation hearing. Considering his tenure as a top executive at a major pharmaceutical company, I also continue to have serious doubts that Mr. Azar can be a leader in addressing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services needs a secretary who will focus on the health and well-being of hard-working Granite Staters, not someone who will continue the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine our health care system, and unfortunately, Mr. Azar has not proven that he can be that leader.”
During Mr. Azar’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, Senator Hassan pressed the nominee (click here for video) on the need for additional funding to combat the opioid crisis and raised concerns about his commitment to lowering skyrocketing prescription drug prices given his close ties to pharmaceutical companies.
Prior to the vote, Senator Shaheen took to the Senate floor to voice her opposition to Azar, who has a lengthy record of increasing drug prices during his tenure in the pharmaceutical industry, and who has stated his intention to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Shaheen underscored Mr. Azar’s alarming history as a pharmaceutical executive, where he opposed government regulations on prescription drug pricing and saw net prices of pharmaceuticals manufactured by his former company increase by double digit percentages. Shaheen highlighted how Mr. Azar’s big pharma ties and government hands-off approach threaten efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, referring to dramatic price increases for Narcan, the antidote that reverses opioid overdoses.
Shaheen also warned that Mr. Azar’s stated intention to dismantle the Affordable Care Act risks curtailing the opioid response, stating, “He apparently does not appreciate that the Affordable Care Act – the Medicaid expansion in particular – has been an absolutely critical tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic… As we all know, the opioid epidemic is a nationwide crisis, with some 63,000 Americans killed by drug overdoses in 2016. But New Hampshire has been hit especially hard. The demise of the Affordable Care Act, which Mr. Azar says he wants, would mean that thousands of Granite Staters would lose access to treatment, with devastating consequences.”
Through the Medicaid expansion, nearly 11,000 Granite Staters have gained access to treatment for substance use disorders.
Shaheen reaffirmed the need to put public interest and public safety above special interests, stating, “Between Mr. Azar’s coziness with the pharmaceutical industry, his disdain for the Affordable Care Act, which is the law of the land and which Mr. Azar would be charged with administering as Secretary, I think he is the wrong person to serve in the critically important post of Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
As the lead Democrat on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Shaheen has led efforts in Congress to combat the opioid epidemic. Shaheen continues to fight for funding to combat the opioid crisis. She also recently introduced bipartisan funding legislation to prioritize states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, including New Hampshire, and has consistently called on the Trump administration to take meaningful action as the public health emergency continues to devastate Granite State communities.