Should former Big Pharma CEO be in charge of regulating Big Pharma?

The Senate Finance Committee responsible for the decision has a long history with Big Pharma.

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This week, the Senate Finance Committee will meet to confirm former Eli Lilly CEO Alex Azar for United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Azar, who was president of the Eli Lilly and Company from 2012 to 2017, also used to be a member of the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a pharmaceutical lobby.

Big Pharma currently spends more money on lobbying than any other industry. In the last 10 years alone, they have given $6 million to 26 members of the Senate Finance Committee. And if you think this is only a Republican problem – you’re wrong.

Those 26 members are 12 Democrats and 14 Republicans, and Big Pharma’s history of donations is pretty evenly split between each party. Not a single member of the committee hasn’t taken some amount of money from Big Pharma in the last decade.

The Senate Finance Committee, lead by Senator Orrin Hatch has a long history with Big Pharma. Last year leaked documents from Columbia’s Embassy in Washington show how a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee, threatened Columbia with cutting off U.S. aid for their peace efforts if they didn’t back off their fight with Big Pharma giant Novartis, over trying to approve a cheaper, generic form of a cancer drug that Novartis manufactures.

The letter stated that authorizing a generic, cheaper form of the drug would “violate the intellectual property rights” and that if “the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia could have in the United States.”

Individuals from the committee that have a distinct history of partnership with Big Pharma include:

  • Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah, who has received $654,710 from Big Pharma from 2006-2016.
  • Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who vote against a measure that would have let us buy cheaper medicine from Canada earlier this year.
  • Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who received $1.2 million from drug makers, medical device companies, and healthcare PACs during his 2016 election bid.
  • Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who has taken $160,000 from members of the Pain Care Forum, an opioid manufacturer’s group.
  • Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who fought for the TPP to include that drug companies would get 12 year monopolies and full price power in developing countries.

Unfortunately with a track record such as this, it is highly likely that Azar will get confirmed. It would take at least 14 of the 26 Senators on the committee to vote unfavorably for him to not be confirmed.

Last year alone, Big Pharma and their lobbying arm, PhRMA, donated $22 million in lobbying and campaign contributions in about a 60/40 split between Republicans and Democrats.

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