Democrats press HHS nominee Azar on ties to drug industry

HHS nominee Azar faced scrutiny during Senate Finance Committee hearing.

HHS, which has a budget of over $1 trillion and over 80,000 employees, has been without a secretary since Tom Price resigned over his use of private jets in September.

Azar is no stranger to the political world or HHS, having served during the George W. Bush administration under former HHS Secretaries Tommy Thompson and Mike Leavitt.

“The system is broken. Mr. Azar was a part of that system,” Wyden said. “Given ample opportunity to provide concrete examples as a nominee of how he’d fix it, Mr. Azar has come up empty.”

President Trump says tackling prescription drug costs is a priority, but some like Wyden see Azar as the fox guarding the hen house. Azar defended his work while at Eli Lilly and said he remains committed to lowering drug costs.

"I don't know that there is any drug price of a branded product that has ever gone down,” Azar said. "Every incentive in the system is towards higher prices,” but Azar said he wants to change that.

While Republicans were largely complimentary of Azar, Democrats didn’t hold back from expressing concerns about specific Trump administration health policies and priorities.

Azar was also questioned on his support for Graham-Cassidy legislation, which Wyden said would make cuts to Medicaid.

“Slowing the growth of a program is not seen as a cut in my mind or the president’s mind,” Azar said.

“We have a bipartisan agreement that was reported out of committee, and I believe that it improves CHIP for the long-term. Congress has passed patches and fixes, but the time for short term solutions is over. CHIP needs to be extended by January 19, and I’m going to do all I can to make sure we get it done. Children, their families, and states are counting on us.”

The committee still needs to vote on Azar to bring his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.