Will the Fox Run the Henhouse?

A Vermont Public Radio Commentary

President Trump’s nominee for the director of Health and Human Services is Alex Azar, formerly head of Eli Lily Company, one of America’s largest producers of pharmaceuticals.

I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic, and I’ve watched with dismay as prices have risen in recent years.

The insulin I use is made by Eli Lily, and I’m thankful that they’ve developed a medicine that allows me to live a healthy, productive life. I recognize that they spent a lot of money figuring out how to do it, and how to control the quality of the product. But I don’t understand why the insulin I use tripled in cost during the time that Mr. Azar was the head of Eli Lily.

I should think that the cost of producing a drug would stay about the same from year to year. Sure, give workers a pay raise from time to time. But the main cost of a drug is in the development and testing, not in the day to day manufacturing.

President Trump campaigned, in part, on reducing the cost of medicines, and promised to negotiate with drug companies about how much they can charge Medicare and Medicaid. I qualify for Medicare, but the law is such that there’s what many call a “Donut Hole” for people like me with high prescription costs. After Medicare has spent what they think is enough for a person in a year, the co-pay goes up astronomically.

When I fell into that Hole last summer, I paid more than three hundred dollars for a month’s worth of insulin - even with my supplemental insurance. This is three times what it cost me before Mr. Azar took the reins of Eli Lily. When asked about the rise in cost of insulin, he acknowledged that there are abuses “in the system” but refused to take responsibility.

Mr. Azar got a nice severance package when he left Eli Lily, reportedly $3.5 million dollars. So I suppose it wouldn’t matter to him if he had to pay more for insulin – a lot more. But it sure does to me.

When President Trump talked about draining the swamp in Washington, I thought he planned to institute ethics reform, and not appoint people who had potential conflicts of interest.

In nominating Alex Azar to be director of Health and Human Services, he may be about to put a fox in charge of one very big henhouse.

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