The Senate is scheduled to take a roll call vote at 2:15 p.m. today on the confirmation of former big pharma executive Alex Azar as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The confirmation vote was scheduled after the Senate voted 54-43 on Tuesday in favor of advancing his nomination. That vote primarily fell across party lines with most Democrats opposing the nomination due his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
For much of the last decade Azar served as the former head of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations. During his tenure, Democratic Senators have noted, the company nearly doubled the cost of certain drugs.
Among the leading opponents to his nomination: Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who said he believes Azar is the wrong choice to fix the Trump administration’s “disastrous record on healthcare.”
Wyden noted that Azar doesn’t have the ethical challenges that faced the former HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D., who resigned in September after controversy over reports he spent nearly $1 million of taxpayer money by using private chartered planes and military jets for government travel.
However, he said that under Azar’s watch, “the price of Forteo, a Lilly drug used to treat osteoporosis, more than doubled. The price of Effient, a Lilly drug used to treat heart disease, more than doubled. The price of Strattera, a Lilly drug used to treat ADHD, more than doubled. The price of Humalog, a Lilly drug used to treat diabetes, more than doubled. And those are only a few of the drugs that were under his purview,” Wyden said.
Azar told the Senate Finance Committee staff that he never, not one time, signed off on a decrease in the price of a drug, according to Wyden. “And when asked about that statement in his confirmation hearing, Mr. Azar was quick to say that that’s just the way the system works. But he gave no concrete examples of how he’d buck the system at HHS.” Wyden said.
Despite Democratic objectives, it is likely that Azar will be confirmed this afternoon with a majority vote. Republican Senators have noted that Azar is uniquely qualified as he already understands the inner workings of HHS. He served as general counsel for the department from 2001 to 2005 and then became the deputy secretary under then-HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, a position he held for two years. In both instances, he was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote.