With his confirmation last week, Alex Azar officially took the reins at HHS. During his confirmation hearings, Azar addressed four key priorities for the department:
1. Soaring drug prices
Azar offered few details on how he would bring prices under control, other than including praise for the pharmacy benefit managers' system for Medicare Part D and a plug for applying Part D ideas to rein in the spiking growth in Part B drug costs.
Even before Azar took over, HHS was moving forward with plans to relax Affordable Care Act insurance reforms. Critics argue that expanding options for association health plans and short-term insurance will do little to stabilize the individual market.
3. Shift to value
Azar said he's committed to having Medicare pay for outcomes. He'll have to square that with the Trump administration's moves that dial back on various payment reforms. Former associates say we can expect him to look at value-based models for drug pricing too.
"We need aggressive prevention, education, regulatory and enforcement efforts," Azar told the Senate Finance Committee. Nonetheless, the administration's 90-day declaration that the opioid crisis is a public health emergency expired Jan. 23.