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News & Press: Government Affairs News

Senate Finance Vets HHS Nominee

Tuesday, January 9, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Bradley Coffey, MA, AAOE Government Affairs
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Washington, DC - The Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), questioned the Trump Administration's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar.

Mr. Azar is a former pharma executive with Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, IN and a former lawyer for HHS. Senate Democrats focused their questioning on Azar's tenure at Eli Lilly, accusing him of contributing to the sky-rocketing costs of pharmaceuticals in the United States. In his defense, Azar indicated that his experience with pharmaceuticals makes him uniquely qualified to rein in the costs of prescription drugs.

President Donald Trump has made the cost of prescription drugs a center stone of his administration's healthcare policy, frequently attacking the high cost of pharmaceuticals on Twitter and in his speeches. Many of the policies Azar touted in his hearing, such as promoting competition among drug companies and regulating drug list prices, have dubious track records at lowering prescription costs. Pursuit of the regulation of drug prices may even require statutory changes as HHS does not currently regulate how manufacturers set prices.

The nominee was also asked about his plans for the Affordable Care Act and the Medicare and Medicaid programs but did not get into specifics. It is widely expected in the policy community that Republicans will toss the ACA repeal ball to HHS and let the Department cripple the law in a way to make it unenforceable. Mr. Azar has also expressed enthusiasm about the Medicare Advantage program. In his position as Secretary, Azar could oversee an expansion of the program if Congress increases funding through the passage of entitlement reform.

Mr. Azar also expressed potential support for mandatory demonstration programs, a change from his predecessor at HHS. AAOE and other healthcare interest groups have opposed mandatory demonstration models as they force providers into expensive care redesign projects and can lead to declining reimbursements if the model's reimbursement scheme is not properly designed.

Mr. Azar is expected to win the endorsement of the Committee and is expected to easily win confirmation when his nomination is brought to the Senate floor. Indeed, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already announced his intention to support Azar's nomination making his support bi-partisan. With Manchin's support other vulnerable Democrats like Joe Donnelly (D-IN) may end up supporting Azar's nomination and voting in favor of confirmation.

Senate nominations are brought to the floor in the order they are received. There are currently 54 nominations awaiting floor action; if Mr. Azar wins the support of the Committee he would be the 55th nomination and would likely be voted on by the full Senate within the coming weeks.

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