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Analysis

3 Takeaways from Azar's 'Frank' Speech at 340B Conference

By Jack O'Brien  
   July 09, 2018

The HHS secretary promises the Trump administration will act to reform the 340B Drug Pricing Program, urges community to embrace change to assist patients who are paying too much. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar addressed the 340B Coalition Summer Conference Monday, where he affirmed the Trump administration's position to reform the 340B Drug Pricing Program. 

Azar highlighted proposed areas of improvement for the much-maligned federal program while promising that 340B-covered entities responsibly investing their savings have nothing to fear. 

Related: Where the 340B Program Currently Stands

Below are three notes from his speech:

1. Change and action are coming
 

  • Azar said the approach to caring for vulnerable patients is constantly changing, adding that those in the 340B space understand the importance of embracing change.
     
  • "If our systems are not adapting, more than likely they are standing in the way," Azar said.
     
  • One of the main goals for the administration is to address "sky-rocketing list prices," though he admitted that it was challenging due to a lack of systematic financial incentives, he added.
     

2. Reached the 'tipping point'
 

  • Though some in the 340B community believe the delays handed down from HHS show a deference to the pharmaceutical industry, Azar said the administration only defers to American people, adding that they are "tired of high drug prices." 
     
  • Azar said the administration is not deferring responsbility to the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices, calling Monday a "tipping point."
     
  • He specifically referenced President Trump's afternoon Tweet aimed at Pfizer for raising drug prices "for no reason," saying the administration "will respond!"
     

3. Transparency and price reform needed
 

  • Azar said the growth of the 340B program in conjunction with Medicaid expansion under the ACA was to be expected but noted that while federal programs grow fast, they usually do not grow as fast as 340B has.
     
  • He said the administration is working to increase oversight on the program, which he admitted was lacking in recent years. 
     
  • Transparency was an area where Azar said the administration could help patients by ensuring they are no long paying the cost-sharing price while doctor only pays for discounted drug price.
     

Reactions from conference attendees
 

  • 340BHealth Interim CEO Maureen Testoni received laughter from the audience while taking the podium after Azar's speech, which she noted was "very frank."
     
  • Testoni added, "We knew that we were in for a fight."
     
  • 340B Matters tweeted, "44% of Americans under the age of 65 have to pay high deductibles. How does @SecAzar expect low-income families to cope with skyrocketing drug prices and uncertain #340B reforms?"
     
  • The organization added a follow-up tweet: "@SecAzar wants to reform #340B but how will these changes to vital drug discounts affect real American lives?"

Jack O'Brien is an associate editor at HealthLeaders. 


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