Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in September after being caught wasting a truly staggering/hilarious amount of taxpayer money to take luxury flights on private jets. Donald Trump has nominated an individual named Alex Azar to be his replacement. Here are some facts about Alex Azar and the pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly.
From 2001–2005, Azar was the Department of Health and Human Services’ general counsel. From 2005–2007, he was the deputy secretary of HHS. In the first job, Azar supervised the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of the Chief Counsel. In the second, he supervised “all operations of the HHS, including the regulation of food and drugs.”
Between 1999 and 2005, according to an investigation carried out by—among others—the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, Eli Lilly engaged in systematic and illegal off-label sales of a psychiatric drug called Zyprexa. The government found that Eli Lilly “created marketing materials promoting Zyprexa for off-label uses, trained its sales force to disregard the law and directed its sales personnel to promote Zyprexa for off-label uses.” Investigators specifically found that the company “expended significant resources” to promote unapproved uses of the drug “in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.” It moreoever “caused false claims for payment to be submitted to federal insurance programs.”
In 2007, Azar left HHS to become the senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Eli Lilly. The company itself describes this role as “lead[ing] Lilly public affairs and lobbying efforts.”
In 2009, with Azar still leading Lilly public affairs and lobbying efforts, it settled all criminal and civil federal allegations against it related to Zyprexa. In the settlement, the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge and agreed to pay a fine of $1.415 billion.
$1.4 billion! Sounds like a lot of money—except that Eli Lilly sold more than $30 billion worth of Zyprexa during the period for which it was investigated and would go on in 2009 to make nearly three times as much money in profit as it paid in fines in the agreement.
Azar will face confirmation hearings before the Senate’s HELP committee, which includes among its members such Democrats as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who have earned reputations for their tough questioning of administration appointees. (Disclosure! I was once worked as an unpaid research assistant for Al Franken. I was never, however, his senior vice president of lobbying.) Should be interesting.