News Releases

 Led by Senator Murray, Senate health committee holds hearing on nomination of Alex Azar for Secretary of Health and Human Services  

Senator Murray called nomination an opportunity to turn page on Tom Price era, “put aside extreme politics” plaguing HHS

But Senator Murray raised serious concerns with Azar’s record, statements on women’s health, Trumpcare, & much more

Senator Murray: “I have not, and will not, let this Administration’s reckless approach lower my expectations for any of the departments our committee oversees”

***WATCH VIDEO OF SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) Today the Senate health committee, led by the committee’s top Democrat Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), held a hearing on the nomination of Alex Azar to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department.

In her opening statement, Senator Murray called Alex Azar’s nomination an opportunity to start focusing on HHS’s mission instead of President Trump’s ideological agenda, but raised serious concerns with Azar’s record and previous statements on many health related issues.

Specifically, Senator Murray grilled Alex Azar on how he would lower drug prices for consumers; his support for the Administration’s attacks on women’s health and rights, including his failure to support a woman’s choice to make her own health care decisions; and his support for the Administration’s sabotage of the health care system, including shortening of the open enrollment period and cutting advertising and outreach budgets.

If confirmed, Senator Murray made clear at the hearing she would hold Alex Azar fully accountable for his support of President Trump’s extreme polices that hurt working families, and committed to continuing to hold HHS to the highest possible standards of ethics and service.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s opening remarks:

“…instead of solving health problems—the Department of Health and Human Services under President Trump has so far been determined to create them. The Department hasn’t attempted to help people get high-quality, affordable coverage—but made it harder, by stopping payments for out-of-pocket cost reductions, letting insurers cover fewer benefits, cutting this year’s open enrollment period, slashing funding for consumer outreach, and much more…Rather than allowing women to make their own health care choices, the Department has tried at every turn to impose right-wing ideology on women and prevent them from getting care from a provider they trust.”

“President Trump went to states like New Hampshire and Ohio and said he would confront the opioid epidemic head-on. He called it ‘a tremendous problem.’ People believed he would make sure hard-hit communities get the resources they need. But this Administration and its health department did the opposite—it proposed gutting Medicaid, which offers critical wraparound services and substance use disorder treatment to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.”

“Mr. Azar—you and I have many areas of stark disagreement. But your nomination still could be an opportunity for HHS to reset, put aside the extreme politics that are actively endangering people nationwide— and start focusing on the Department’s mission instead of President Trump’s ideological agenda…People across the country would be far better off if you took this opportunity, Mr. Azar—but—and I say this with nothing but concern and disappointment— my review of your record leaves me with serious doubts that you will.”

“As a pharmaceutical executive, you raised drug prices year after year…You have also made it abundantly clear that on questions of women’s health, you side with ideology over science—and right-wing politicians over women…Although conservative experts, governors, and even some members of Congress have rejected President Trump’s attempts to sabotage the health care system and jam Trumpcare through, you said this legislation… didn’t go far enough.”

“Taken together, Mr. Azar, your professional history and statements point to a continuation of the extreme, damaging, politically-driven approach the Trump Administration has taken on health care…I hope I’m pleasantly surprised by your answers today—and if you are confirmed, by your leadership at HHS as well—because let me be clear: I have not, and will not, let this Administration’s reckless approach lower my expectations for any of the departments our committee oversees. And I will continue doing everything I can to hold HHS to the highest possible standards of ethics and service, for people in my state and across the country.”

Watch video of Senator Murray’s opening remarks HERE.

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening remarks below.

Thank you, Chairman Alexander. And thank you to our colleagues for joining us.

Mr. Azar—thank you and your family for being here and for your willingness to serve.

In November 2016, people started emailing, calling, and even coming up to me in the grocery store with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future held—especially for their health care.

Let me tell you—it hasn’t stopped.

And because these worries and challenges are what this Congress—and the Department we’re discussing today—is supposed to be focused on, I’m going to start my remarks with a few examples of the stories I’ve been told over the last year.

My constituent Julie from Mercer Island is a four-time cancer survivor. She has said she would not be able to afford her medical expenses—or stay alive—without Affordable Care Act protections.

Kim from Ellensburg shared her story about her addiction to opioids and her ability to overcome it with the right comprehensive treatment.

Christina from Marysville said that before going to Planned Parenthood, she struggled to get birth control regularly given her unpredictable schedule in the fast-food industry.

These are just a few examples—there are so many others, and so many pressing health problems that this Administration could be solving.

But instead of solving health problems—the Department of Health and Human Services under President Trump has so far been determined to create them.

The Department hasn’t attempted to help people get high-quality, affordable coverage—but made it harder, by stopping payments for out-of-pocket cost reductions, letting insurers cover fewer benefits, cutting this year’s open enrollment period, slashing funding for consumer outreach, and much more.

Rather than allowing women to make their own health care choices, the Department has tried at every turn to impose right-wing ideology on women and prevent them from getting care from a provider they trust.

President Trump went to states like New Hampshire and Ohio and said he would confront the opioid epidemic head-on. He called it “a tremendous problem.”

People believed he would make sure hard-hit communities get the resources they need.

But this Administration and its health department did the opposite—it proposed gutting Medicaid, which offers critical wraparound services and substance use disorder treatment to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Experts say this would cripple response efforts.

And, all it took was a meeting with a few pharmaceutical executives for President Trump to go dark on the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs—despite the President’s promises about bringing prices down.

In fact, it’s hard to find a health care problem that the leadership at HHS has not only failed to address—but has actively made worse the Department has proposed using public health funds to close near-term budget gaps rather than to prevent costly illness and disease down the road, and utterly failed to see the urgency of the public health crisis that is still unfolding in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The Administration is even rolling back protections that prevent discrimination against people who have historically been denied equal access to health care.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but the absolute last thing our nation’s health department should be spending time on is encouraging more discrimination in our health care system.

It’s absurd—and it’s wrong. Now, Mr. Azar—you and I have many areas of stark disagreement.

But your nomination still could be an opportunity for HHS to reset put aside the extreme politics that are actively endangering people nationwide—and start focusing on the Department’s mission instead of President Trump’s ideological agenda.

People across the country would be far better off if you took this opportunity, Mr. Azar—but—and I say this with nothing but concern and disappointment—my review of your record leaves me with serious doubts that you will.

As a pharmaceutical executive, you raised drug prices year after year.

Eli Lilly is currently under investigation for working, under your tenure, with other drug companies to needlessly raise the price of insulin.

And you have said many times that you oppose government efforts to lower drug prices.

You have also made it abundantly clear that on questions of women’s health, you side with ideology over science—and right-wing politicians over women.

Although conservative experts, governors, and even some members of Congress have rejected President Trump’s attempts to sabotage the health care system and jam Trumpcare through…

You said this legislation—which would have spiked premiums, undermined protections for people with pre-existing conditions, gutted Medicaid, cost tens of millions of people their health care, defunded Planned Parenthood, and more—didn’t go far enough.

Mr. Azar, this leaves me very concerned about whether you would faithfully implement the bipartisan agreement Chairman Alexander and I were able to reach earlier this fall, should it become law.

This is something I plan to discuss further with you today.

And finally, in light of President Trump’s profoundly underwhelming follow-through on his campaign promises about tackling the opioid epidemic, it is deeply disappointing that yet another nominee for the role of Secretary of Health hasn’t supported committing new resources to this effort.

Taken together, Mr. Azar, your professional history and statements point to a continuation of the extreme, damaging, politically-driven approach the Trump Administration has taken on health care.

I want to return briefly to the stories I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks to make one final point.

Right now, Julie is traveling around the country raising awareness about open enrollment, to help more people sign up.

Kim pursuing a master’s in social work and helping people in Central Washington get the necessary treatment and services to overcome addiction.  

Christina has become a vocal advocate for helping women in WA and nationwide get care that works for their needs. 

Julie, Kim, and Christina are doing more than their part to keep our communities healthy and well.

So my question is, why isn’t their nation’s health department doing the same?

People should have a Secretary of Health who will work for and with patients and families—not against them, and who is committed to policymaking based on science, not ideology.

So, Mr. Azar, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the many serious concerns I’ve raised about how you could possibly be an appropriate choice for this position.

Because from what I’ve seen—President Trump has chosen yet another extreme, ideologically driven nominee to pick up right where former Secretary Price left off. 

Women, children, seniors, families and patients deserve much better than what they’ve seen from HHS under this Administration so far.

So I hope I’m pleasantly surprised by your answers today—and if you are confirmed, by your leadership at HHS as well.

Because let me be clear: I have not, and will not, let this Administration’s reckless approach lower my expectations for any of the departments our committee oversees.

And I will continue doing everything I can to hold HHS to the highest possible standards of ethics and service, for people in my state and across the country.

I’ll turn it back over to you, Chairman Alexander.