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Trump says pharma gets away with murder. Alex Azar is the guy with the hatchet.

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- President Trump could not have been more clear.

"The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder," he said in mid-October. He had used the same "getting away with murder" line previously, adding that "pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power."

Yet just four weeks later, Trump nominated the former president of Eli Lilly's U.S. business to run the Department of Health and Human Services. If drug companies are murderers, Alex Azar is the guy with the rusty hatchet.

Azar was deputy secretary at HHS during the George W. Bush administration before he cashed out and made millions at Lilly while the company's prices for insulin and other drugs soared. Now he's taking another spin through the revolving door -- nominated by a phony populist who had promised to drain the swamp but is instead handing over the government to corporations and the treasury to the rich.

The Senate will probably confirm him. This Senate would confirm Mr. Fox as secretary of henhouse security. But even a couple of the Republicans at Azar's first confirmation hearing Wednesday were squeamish about the spectacle of a Big Pharma executive being installed as the ultimate policeman of drug prices.

"You've got some convincing to make me believe that you're going to represent the American people and not Big Pharma," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. "And I know that's insulting, … but we all have our doubts, because Big Pharma manipulates the system to keep prices high."

 

And that was restrained compared with the Democrats' treatment of Azar.

"Your resume reads like a how-to manual for profiting from government service," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., noting the $3.5 million payout Azar got last year from Eli Lilly. "I think the American people have a right to know that the person running HHS is looking out for them and not for their own bank account or for the profitability of their former and maybe future employers."

Azar offered little beyond an acknowledgment that "drug prices are too high." When it came to reducing prices, he tossed out the usual objections offered by the pharmaceutical lobby -- for example, that we can't reimport drugs from the European Union, where prices are lower, because the medicines wouldn't be "reliable and safe."

"It's a canard," Paul said. "That's B.S., and the American people think it's B.S."

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