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  • Washington Highlights

    HHS Nominee Outlines Priorities During Senate HELP Hearing

    Jason Kleinman, Senior Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations

    President Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar outlined his top priorities during his Nov. 29 hearing in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Senate Finance Committee, which will be the committee that votes on the nomination, has not yet scheduled its own hearing.

    In his opening statement, Azar said, if confirmed, he would have four top priorities:

    • Addressing high drug prices;
    • Making health care more affordable, more available, and more tailored to what individuals want and need in their care;
    • Harnessing the power of Medicare to shift the focus in the health care system from paying for procedures and sickness to paying for health and outcomes; and
    • Tackling the scourge of the opioid epidemic.

    Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) expressed support for Azar in his opening statement, referring to him as “an excellent nominee to do this job.” Sen. Alexander also encouraged Azar to approve states’ innovation waivers, address the opioid abuse crisis, and support his bipartisan bill with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to stabilize the individual health insurance market.

    Members on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Murray, raised concerns about Azar’s connections to the pharmaceutical industry due to his previous role as a top executive at Eli Lilly & Company. In her opening statement, Sen. Murray noted, “As a pharmaceutical executive, you raised drug prices year after year…And you have said many times that you oppose government efforts to lower drug prices.”

    When asked about his position on block grants for Medicaid, Azar voiced support, noting that “looking at block granting and empowering states to be fiscal stewards can be an effective approach.”

    In response to Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) praise of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Azar vowed to advocate for continued CDC funding and referred to the “CDC and its leadership and career staff as the envy of the world.”