President Pledges to Cut Drug Prices as New HHS Chief Takes Office

Azar’s response: “We will bring down prescription drug prices”

President Donald Trump said prescription drug prices will come “rocketing down” under the leadership of the new secretary of Health and Social Services (HHS), according to a report from The Hill.

“We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down and unravel the tangled web of special interest that are driving prices up for medicine and for really hurting patients,” Trump said at a ceremony honoring Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and HHS official. Azar replaces former HHS Secretary Tom Price, who resigned in September after coming under fire for taking chartered flights.

“As our new secretary, Alex will continue to implement the administrative and regulatory changes needed to ensure that our citizens get the affordable high quality care that they deserve,” Trump said at the White House.

Azar will also be charged with curbing the opioid crisis, Trump said. “I think we’re going to be very tough on the drug companies in that regard and very tough on doctors in that regard,” he said.

The Senate confirmed Azar as HHS secretary January 24 in a 55-43 vote. Six Democrats, and Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), joined all but one Republican to support the confirmation.

Azar faced scrutiny over his nearly 10 years at Eli Lilly. Democrats said the costs of several drugs more than doubled during his tenure at the company. Democrats also expressed concern that Azar would continue what they view as the Trump administration’s attempts to sabotage the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Republicans argued that Azar comes with the experience needed to run HHS, a large department charged with overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, drug approvals, disease control, and much more. They said his experience in the pharmaceutical industry was an asset, as he’d already be up to speed on such a complex issue and would know the effect potential policies could have.

In brief remarks, Azar commented on what he saw as Trump’s directives for the department. “We have to tackle the scourge of the opioid crisis, and we will bring down prescription drug prices,” Azar said.

Azar previously served at HHS from 2001 to 2005, first as general counsel and then as deputy secretary in former President George W. Bush’s administration. As deputy secretary, Azar was tasked with overseeing the department’s regulatory process, his former colleagues said, an expertise which could prove important going forward.

Source: The Hill; January 29, 2018.