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HHS Secretary Alex Azar Answers to Congress After Proposed Budget Cuts

By Jack O'Brien  
   February 14, 2018

Top Trump health official testified to the House Ways and Means Committee on lowering prescription drug prices, increasing healthcare access, and strengthening Medicare. 

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar reiterated the Trump administration’s commitment Wednesday to providing affordable healthcare access, two days after the White House’s budget proposed a 21% cut to the department.

Azar told the House Ways and Means Committee that HHS holds a “deep commitment” to keeping Medicare solvent and accessible.

“We want people to have access to affordable health care,” Azar said. “Making our programs work for today’s Americans, sustaining them for future generations, and keeping our country safe is a sound vision for HHS, and I’m proud to support it.”

Related: What's In, What's Out: Healthcare Provisions from the Bipartisan Budget Deal

Azar laid out his main priorities for HHS, including increased access and affordability to health insurance, shifting Medicare toward a more value-based operation, lowering prescription drug costs, and embracing telehealth services.

Strengthening Medicare, changing ACA requirements

Referring to Medicare as a “bedrock of our society,” Azar said he is determined to keep the program solvent by driving out waste, fraud, and abuse. He said the recent White House budget proposal continues the shift toward value-based and outcome-based care, adding that “the future of Medicare must be driven by value.”

Azar supported the budget’s inclusion of the Graham-Cassidy proposal, which would maintain certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, such as allowing individuals to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, while also allowing states the flexibility to alter the health plans offered through block granting.

This would shift the power to address certain outstanding healthcare issues like risk-sharing and rising deductibles to the states, Azar said, while moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach from the federal government.

However, when asked about HHS’ response to Idaho’s decision to permit health plans that ignore some ACA requirements, Azar said the agency has not received a waiver request from the state or a solicitation for opinion.

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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