Six Democrats Voted To Confirm Former Pharmaceutical Executive As Trump Health Secretary [Opinion]

Win McNameeGetty Images

The Senate has voted to confirm former Eli Lilly president Alex Azar as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The vote fell mostly along party lines, with only one Republican, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, voting against the confirmation of Azar, according to the Hill.

Paul’s reasoning in voting against Azar is because of Azar’s opposition to allowing consumer importation of prescription drugs from Canada, where prices tend to be cheaper. One might then be inclined to think this vote would be a no-brainer for Democrats. On the contrary, six Democrats voted in favor of Azar’s confirmation: Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

According to the Washington Examiner, Heitkamp explained her support for Alex Azar earlier this month.

“I don’t share a lot of his philosophy, but he understands, as someone who has been in the administration, the importance of the rule of law and compliance,” she added. “I believe I can work with him in the future, especially on Indian health.”

One thing that might truly help Native Americans in North Dakota in their pursuit of improved access to essential health needs would be the ability to import lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada. Heitkamp, being a senator from a state that lies on the Canadian border, knows this very well. But rather than take a principled stand on this most basic of issues, Heitkamp has chosen to follow the pipe dream of “working with Republicans,” something Republicans have no apparent desire to reciprocate.

Is it really too much to ask for Democrats to be able to stand united in making prescription drugs more affordable for Americans even if that comes at the expense of pharmaceutical company profits? Well, Democrats like Cory Booker have in the past voted against measures to allow the importation of drugs from Canada, so maybe it is too much to ask.

If the Democrats stand for anything as a party, it’s certainly not taking bold steps against the pharmaceutical industry in its never-ending pursuit of profits. While the majority of Democrats should be commended for voting against Azar, the six who voted for Azar’s confirmation should not be let off the hook easily, and others, such as Cory Booker, should be held to account when they cast votes on the wrong side of issues like Canadian drug importation.

Senator Bernie Sanders has come out strongly against Azar, citing in a Facebook post the rising cost of insulin when Azar was president of Eli Lilly as one reason for his opposition.

“As a candidate for president, Donald Trump railed against drug companies exploiting ordinary Americans,” Sanders wrote. “And yet his latest nominee for HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, was president of Eli Lilly for ten years, during which the price of insulin tripled – making it too expensive for many people to afford this life or death drug. We should not have people in government who represent everything that is wrong with the insatiable greed of the pharmaceutical industry.”

While it’s clear that the Republicans have no interest in making health insurance and medicine more affordable for the American people, Democrats would be wise to congeal around a principled stance in the opposite direction. The Democrats who came out in support of Doug Jones in Alabama in last year’s special election do not want or deserve a part-time Republican. They won the election, not the Republican voters of that state.