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

Dana Milbank on

If the "forgotten" man and woman were thinking Trump was really going to lower their drug prices -- well, they can forget about it.

They certainly shouldn't be surprised. They've already seen Trump stock his administration with corporate titans and billionaires and begin to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Nor should they be shocked to discover that they aren't getting that big, beautiful tax cut Trump promised. The Tax Policy Center projects that under the "cut," the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will get 62 percent of the benefit in 2027, while the bottom 95 percent will see no real change.

Tax distribution analysis is hard to understand. Putting a drug executive in charge of drug pricing is easy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the committee holding Wednesday's hearing, tried to inoculate Azar against the inevitable accusations of plutocracy. "What do you say to the skeptics," he asked at the start, "who question the increase in insulin prices while you were a leader at Eli Lilly?"

Azar explained that his knowledge of "how the money flows" would be an asset -- in much the way Trump said that his experience gaming the tax system qualified him to fix it.

Paul asked him to acknowledge Big Pharma's role in manipulating patents. Azar repeated that there are abuses "in the system."

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., asked Azar how he would explain the tripling of insulin prices during his tenure at Eli Lilly to a father of diabetics.

Azar explained, once more, that "the problem is that system."

"The system?" Baldwin asked. "So I should just tell them it's the system?"

 

Warren asked Azar whether the $515 million criminal fine Lilly paid in 2009 was "adequate accountability" -- even though the company made billions from the illegal marketing. Azar said it was. Asked whether Lilly's CEO should have been held personally responsible, Azar merely replied, "I'm satisfied with our discussion."

The plutocrat was not helping matters. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., tossed Azar a lifeline. Would he do some "homework" and "come back to us in six months" with recommendations to end the "gaming of the system"?

"Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah," the nominee replied.

How reassuring.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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