Watchdog Calls on HHS to Release Sec. Azar’s Communications with Former Employer Eli Lilly

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 30, 2018

Contact: Daniel Stevens, dstevens@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group focused on public accountability, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeking communications between Sec. Alex Azar, and any representative or lobbyist for Eli Lilly and Company.  Sec. Azar worked at Eli Lilly for a decade, and he has supported a proposed rule change at HHS that would greatly benefit the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Read the FOIA here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “The American public deserves to know whether Sec. Azar is working for them or his former employer.  HHS should quickly release these documents so that everyone can see whether Sec. Azar has been working to implement Eli Lilly’s agenda at HHS.”

Two days ago, on August 28, 2018, CfA called on ethics officials at the HHS to open an investigation into Sec. Azar and his relationship with Eli Lilly.  In response to CfA’s complaint, HHS officials told the healthcare publication STAT:

“Secretary Azar fully disclosed his former employment with Eli Lilly to the Senate, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, and the HHS Ethics Office prior to his appointment at HHS. He has been completely transparent and agreed to recuse as required by the Ethics Pledge. Under the guidance of the HHS Ethics Office, he has instituted a robust screening arrangement to help ensure that, as required by the Ethics Pledge, he does not participate in any particular matters where his former employer is a party to the matter, or a party representative.”

HHS officials failed to address whether Sec. Azar has been communicating with employees or representatives of Eli Lilly about a recent HHS proposal to curb rebates for pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).  On February 14, 2017, before Sec. Azar joined HHS, Eli Lilly had called on the agency to limit the rebates that drug manufacturers are forced to negotiate with PBMs. Drug companies have long complained that the rebates drive up drug prices and put money into the pockets of PBMs like CVS and Express Scripts.

On July 18, 2018, after Sec. Azar had joined the agency, HHS essentially acceded to the drug makers’ demands and submitted a proposed rule to OMB that would drastically reduce PBM rebates.  The text of the rule has not been released, but it appears that Eli Lilly would greatly benefit from the new regulation.  Sec. Azar has supported the drug industry’s calls to limit PBM rebates – both while he was the president of Eli Lilly and more recently as the Secretary of HHS.

Recently, members of Congress have also questioned Sec. Azar’s motivation for supporting the new rule.  On August 17, 2018, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) sent a letter to Sec. Azar seeking to answer whether he had worked with Eli Lilly to limit PBM rebates.  Additionally, on August 9, 2018, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) sent a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney expressing concern about the effect the rule would have on consumers.

Stevens continued, “The litany of Trump administration officials working for themselves at the expense of the American public never seems to end.  Former HHS Secretary Tom Price and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in ignominy while Secretaries Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke are under the cloud of ongoing investigations.  HHS should release the records regarding Sec. Azar’s communications with Eli Lilly so Americans can decide for themselves whether the person heading the country’s healthcare policy is in the pocket of a pharmaceutical company.”

Campaign for Accountability is nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.