What a new HHS secretary means for healthcare01.30.18
Alex Azar began his job this week as the new secretary of Health and Human Services.
Azar has significant experience with HHS, having previously served as general counsel and deputy secretary of HHS under the George W. Bush administration. During his confirmation hearing, Azar indicated that his administration will focus on four key priorities.
1. Lowering drug prices
During his tenure at HHS, Azar helped to implement Medicare Part D drug coverage and served as CEO of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. from 2012 until he was nominated for this position by President Trump late last year. He said he will use his prior experiences in both government and the private sector to lower costs while still encouraging discovery in the pharmaceutical industry.
2. Ensuring affordable care
In the opening statement during his confirmation hearing, Azar said, “We must address these challenges [increasing premiums and reduced options] for those who have insurance coverage, and for those who have been pushed out or left out of the insurance market by the ACA.” Furthermore, he had favorable comments regarding the bipartisan health care bill authored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), which we discussed in a previous blog post. Azar noted, however, that he did not view cost-sharing reduction payments as a long-term solution to problems that have arisen from the ACA related to increased costs and reduced access to insurance options.
3. Promoting value-based care
Azar stated that HHS must “harness the power of Medicare to shift the focus in our healthcare system from paying for procedures in sickness to paying for health and outcomes.” When he was asked specifically about the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation program, he stated that he would use CMMI as a tool to “ideate, pilot, test, and generalize” innovations, and indicated that he supported some mandatory participation in pilot programs.
4. Combatting opioid addiction in the United States
Azar said that he plans to use prevention, education, regulatory, and enforcement efforts to combat the overprescribing and overuse of opioids.
Outside of his confirmation hearings before the Senate, Mr. Azar also met individually with some senators. Mr. Azar had a meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who stated that Mr. Azar affirmed to him his commitment to tackle fraud and abuse and to protect whistleblowers who alert HHS and other federal agencies to fraud and abuse occurring within the healthcare industry.