Azar nomination follows disturbing pattern to undermine social safety net

The resignation of Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceBiden health nominee faces first Senate test Focus on cabinet nominees' effectiveness and expertise, not just ideology Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE, just 231 days into his tenure as secretary of Health and Human Services, presented an opportunity for the Trump administration. It was a chance to course correct and put the “forgotten men and women” of this country first—workers and the middle class who deserve affordable, high quality health care.

Mr. Price’s tenure was the shortest ever of a secretary of Health and Human Services, and it was marred by policy ineptitude. Price wasted taxpayer dollars by sabotaging the Affordable Care Act—the very law he was trusted to enforce. He also brought shame to his office by wasting taxpayer funds on his travel. Because of his assault on the ACA, premiums are up and the health care of millions of Americans is under threat.

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Unfortunately, the nomination of Alex Azar to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services follows the Trump administration’s disturbing pattern of filling top positions with people who want to undermine the social safety net.

This is especially true when it comes to health care. Mr. Azar is a known opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Much like President Trump, who continues to insist that the ACA is “failing,” Azar has said the health care law is “circling the drain.” This is false—on the first day of the open enrollment period in November, more than 200,000 Americans chose a plan, more than double the number who signed up the first day last year.

This strong showing comes despite the Trump administration’s attempts to sabotage the law by refusing to make CSR payments, slashing funding for outreach by 90 percent, and shortening the enrollment period. The idea that the President of the United States and his secretary of HHS would intentionally undermine the health and financial security of millions of Americans, for personal political gain, is malicious. Yet we have no reason to believe that Mr. Azar will strengthen the individual marketplace used by millions of Americans—instead, he seems poised to continue to chip away at this lifeline.

If confirmed, Mr. Azar would have broad discretion to continue the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the ACA—and I have no reason to believe he would do otherwise. In fact, in an interview with Bloomberg, he lauded the fact that the HHS secretary has a “tremendous amount of authority” over the implementation of the health care law, no matter what happens with repeal in the Senate.

And he would not stop at the ACA. Mr. Azar supports converting Medicaid to block grants, which would limit federal support for the program, shift costs to states, and not allow Medicaid to serve the needs of patients. He also opposed Medicaid expansion, which has provided access to health care for 15 million Americans.

Just as concerning is Mr. Azar’s background as a pharmaceutical company executive. President Trump campaigned on a promise to lower drug prices for Americans, yet Mr. Azar has publicly stated that he did not foresee any progress on that front.

And while President Trump insisted in a tweet that Mr. Azar will be a “star’ who will lower drug prices, a report by the Wall Street Journal found that under his tenure at the helm of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co., prices skyrocketed for some of the company’s most popular drugs. In fact, the insulin drug Humalog doubled in list price from 2011 to 2016, under Mr. Azar’s leadership, causing the attorneys general in Minnesota, California, and Florida to demand more information about this troubling increase.

Rising drug costs affect everyone—from seniors to families to children—across our country. Pharmaceutical companies are earning record profits, while patients and taxpayers face higher and higher costs. These companies grow their businesses with the benefit of taxpayer-sponsored research. Then they turn around and gouge those same taxpayers—putting life-saving medicine out of reach for many. This is not right.

If Alex Azar continues the policies of the Trump administration, he will face the same obstacles that plagued his predecessor. If he insists on harming American families, we will oppose him at every turn. There are lives on the line, and Democrats will be watching.

DeLauro represents Connecticut's 3rd District and is ranking member on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education.