For immediate release
November 29, 2017
UNITE HERE’s International President, Top Health Care Experts Question Suitability of Azar to Run DHHS Following Record of Soaring Insulin Prices Under His Leadership at Eli Lilly
Washington, DC – With the first confirmation hearing for former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar underway now, the union that has been tackling big pharma at the state level, and winning new consumer protections against prescription drug price gouging, has laid out the most pressing questions that Azar must answer to reconcile what some say is a disqualifying conflict of interest.
“Insulin is the poster child for what is going wrong in the way the pharmaceutical industry does business, and Alex Azar was at the helm asinsulin prices soared for patients, rising to $255 a vial in 2016,” said D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers’ union which successfully advocated for and helped secure enactment of two pharma reform bills in Nevada and California in 2017. “A central role of DHHS is to part to deliver quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans – something that Alex Azar has built his career on blocking. Now Azar must answer: how can he reconcile abusing consumers and feeding the insatiable desire for even bigger profits?”
Nevada Senator Yvanna Cancela, who sponsored successful first-in-the-nation insulin cost-control legislation this spring, echoed these concerns and zeroed in on the role he believes pharmaceutical companies play in setting the prices for prescription drugs – a hot topic that Eli Lilly hotly disputed during the fight for the insulin bill in Nevada.
“In legislative hearings surrounding this year’s insulin bill in Nevada, Eli Lilly representatives and manufacturers claimed that the reason insulin and other life-saving drugs are unaffordable for patients is because health plans don’t pay the entire cost, and they have created copays that impact consumers in order to sustain prescription drug coverage. This line of thinking argues that the price should be whatever the manufacturer deems it to be, and health plans should just pay it. Would you break from the industry you built your career in to oppose forced payment from health plans that would protect profit margins for big pharma while failing to reduce the cost of care for patients?”
Mike Casey, Chair of UNITE HERE’s Health Care Task Force, raised a flag on taxpayer money that goes to fund big pharma, and the lack of transparency therein.
“A large portion of prescription drug prices are paid by taxpayers through federal researchdollars, through Medicare, and through Medicaid, yet there is zero accountability to the American public on what big pharma manufacturersare spending their profits on. Although industry hacks say that the cost of life saving medicines are sky high to accommodate “innovation”, the fact is that twice as much money is dumped into selling and marketing their drugs than is spend on actually innovating. Would you continue to toe your old Eli Lilly line that the money spent by pharmacy manufacturers marketing their drugs is a “trade secret” that the American public has no right to know, despite subsidizing those profits?”
UNITE HERE represents 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries in the U.S. and Canada, and is a longtime leader in affordable, innovative, and accessible healthcare for all workers.