The Fox Should Not Guard the Hen House

The Fox Should Not Guard the Hen House

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and 60 other health care, civil rights and human rights organizations have urged the U.S. Senate to reject President Trump’s nominee, Alex Azar to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, following the departure of scandal-plagued former HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Azar, with experience as a former HHS Deputy Secretary under President George W. Bush, served until recently as president of the U.S. division of pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Co. If confirmed, Azar would be set to lead a HHS agenda with devastating consequences for women, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals across the country.

Here are four things you should know about Azar:

1. Azar supports turning Medicaid into a block grant program.

According to Azar, “there’s a lot to commend on a block grant approach.” He contends a block grant program would “makes [states] better stewards of the money” because they would make tradeoffs about what and who to cover. Yet block grants shift the financial risk to states to manage Medicaid. In turn, states would need to significantly cut eligibility, services, and protections for consumers – especially those with the highest health care needs – to stay within spending caps. See NHeLP’s issue brief “Evaluating Medicaid Block Grant & Per Capita Cap Proposals.”

2. Azar opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

If nominated, Azar will advance Trump’s agenda to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Azar believes the ACA is “certainly circling the drain” and expressed support for the Administration’s drastic cuts in navigator funding. He also opposes the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which covers more than 15 million low-income adults. See NHeLP’s issue brief “The Faces of Medicaid Expansion: Fillings Gaps in Coverage.”

3. Azar supports anti-choice policies and restricting women’s access to birth control.

At Azar’s Senate HELP Committee hearing, he refused to say whether he would support increasing access to contraceptives by moving them over-the-counter. When asked if he believes that women should have access to all health care recommended by their doctors, Azar replied that “we have to balance a woman’s choice of insurance … with the conscience of employers.” Azar has also financially contributed to a variety of anti-choice politicians and promoted anti-choice policies, such as the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. See NHeLP’s comments on the recent HHS rule related to contraceptive coverage.

4. Azar opposes consumer protections and access to prescription drugs.

As a top executive at Eli Lilly, Azar put patients at risk and oversaw exorbitant price hikes for critical drugs that millions of people depend on. After Azar become president of Lilly USA, the company tripled the price of Humalog, its best-selling insulin, from $74 in 2007 to $269 in 2017. Even Trump has accused pharmaceutical companies of “getting away with murder.” It is rather hypocritical that Trump would nominate someone with a background of price gauging, whose pricing schemes have led people to die while unable to afford essential medicine.

The HHS Secretary should be committed to protecting the welfare and health care rights of consumers. Azar, however, is committed to promoting Medicaid block grants, the ACA sabotage, anti-choice policies, birth control restrictions, and big pharma’s profits. Everyone concerned with access to quality, affordable health care should call their senators now, and urge them to oppose Azar.

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