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Former HHS deputy secretary favors giving states greater flexibility to comply with health care reform
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Update: On Jan. 24, 2018, the Senate voted 55-43 to confirm Alex Azar as President Donald Trump's new secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See New HHS Secretary Azar Pledges to Focus on Prescription Drug Costs.
President Donald Trump on Nov. 13, 2017, nominated a former top executive at pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co. to be the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Alex Azar—who earlier served as HHS general counsel and then deputy secretary under President George W. Bush—would fill the leadership position left vacant when Dr. Tom Price, the past HHS chief, resigned following the GOP's failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after reports that he used an excessive amount of government funds for private jet travel. We've rounded up the latest news on Azar's views and responses to his nomination.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
6:57 AM - 13 Nov 2017Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!
Getting HHS Back on Track
The 50-year-old Azar would be thrust onto the front lines of a White House agenda that includes repealing the ACA, reining in drug prices and rolling back regulations—goals that have remained largely unfulfilled since Trump took office. The Trump administration is wagering Azar has the policy and political chops to get those priorities back on track, and the managerial expertise required to repair relationships within HHS and on Capitol Hill. (Politico)
Seeking Flexibility for States
Azar, who ran Indianapolis-based Lilly's U.S. operations until earlier this year, has been an advocate for more state flexibility under the ACA. That matches up with what some Republicans have advocated, such as in a seemingly stalled bipartisan bill to fund insurer subsidies while expanding state waivers from some of the ACA's health plan coverage requirements. (BenefitsPro)
Reactions Fall Along Party Lines
"As a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services and private sector executive, Alex Azar has the qualifications and experience to get results. The Senate health committee will promptly schedule a hearing on his nomination," said Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate health committee. However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, pledged, "This confirmation process will be a referendum on the Trump administration's repeated efforts to sabotage our health care system and raise premiums on millions of Americans." (Indianapolis Star)
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Health Care Costs]
Addressing Prescription Drug Prices
Azar could be tasked with cracking down on the drug industry, which Trump has repeatedly promised to take on over rising costs. Azar has blamed insurers for high prices, telling an audience at an industry conference in May, "When the patient is going into the pharmacy, they're getting the sticker, they're getting the list price. We have a problem. Patients are paying too much for drugs."(NBC News)
HR Can Help Control Prescription Costs
As a general rule, pay close attention to your relationship with pharmacy benefit management firms and specialty pharmacies. Some employers have begun putting each component of the prescription drug program—retail, mail-order, and specialty pharmacies and plan administration—out for bidding instead of offering the entire program as a single contract. (HR Magazine)
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