Cronyism and Conflicts of Interest in Trump's Coronavirus Task Force - 2020-02-29
Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, admitted Wednesday that a vaccine for the coronavirus might not be affordable for all Americans. "We can't control that price," Azar told Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., during a congressional hearing about the virus, which has been spreading throughout the world and is widely expected to become a serious public health issue in the United States.
After a wave of criticism from Democrats, Azar walked the comment back the next day, saying that he would ensure public access to a vaccine for the virus known as Covid-19 if one should be developed. But Azar, who served as the top lobbyist for Eli Lilly before becoming president of the drug company's U.S. operations in 2012 and the secretary of Health and Human Services in 2018, knows of what he unthinkingly speaks. Exorbitant drug pricing often leaves life-saving treatment out of reach for the poorest Americans. And to the extent that Azar and the other businessmen who make up the majority of the president's task force on the coronavirus have any experience with pharmaceuticals, one of the most profitable sectors of the economy, it's been making money off the system that keeps them out of reach.
In the case of Azar, who earned nearly $2 million during his last year at Lilly, that profit came at the expense of the people who needed the drugs, according to a lawsuit filed in 2017. While Azar was leading the pharmaceutical giant, the cost of its drugs went up significantly. In particular, insulin sold by the company more than doubled in price. According to the suit, which also names Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, Eli Lilly engaged in a scheme to artificially inflate the price of its drug, leaving some diabetic people unable to pay the cost and forced to use expired insulin or none at all. Eli Lilly did not immediately respond to a request for comment but the company has told other publications that the suit has no merit and that it follows the "highest ethical standards."