Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing with HHS Secretary Nominee

By Akia Thorpe -

January 12, 2018

The US Committee Senate on Finance held a hearing relating to the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, a former executive at Eli Lilly and Company and former HHS Deputy Secretary and General Counsel.

During the hearing on January 9, 2018, US Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), and others questioned Azar about drug pricing, including his past experiences, and how, if confirmed, he plans to confront the issue of drug pricing.  

In his opening statement, Azar listed four critical areas he plans to focus on: lowering drug prices; making healthcare more affordable, more available, and more tailored to what individuals want and need in their care; shifting the focus in the healthcare system from paying for procedures and sickness to paying for health and outcomes; and addressing the opioid epidemic.

Regarding lowering the cost of prescription drugs, Azar said that issues of drug competition must be confronted. “We have to ensure sure we have robust generic competition, branded competition,” Azar said. “I want to ensure we create a very viable and robust biosimilar market also to compete against branded companies in that high cost biologics space. So that’s critical. I also want to make sure we go after any types of gaming or exploitation of exclusivities or patents by branded drug companies. I fought against this when I was general counsel….There’s no silver bullet here though. I want to be very clear. There’s not one action that all of a sudden fixes this.”

At a November 2017 hearing of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Azar said that the issue of drug pricing will be his top priority.

In the January 2018 hearing, Azar also emphasized reversing incentive on list prices. “There’s a lot that we all know we can do on the discounted prices but…can we create incentives that actually pull down those list prices, so that when the patient walks in needing to pay out-of-pocket at the pharmacy, they’re not hit with that kind of cost. That’s one of the harder issues to solve,” Azar said.

Azar also said value-based or outcome-based pricing can be important, particularly with medicines, but also generally in the healthcare system. “I think that can be an important part of how we think about drug pricing and value for taxpayers and for customers,” Azar said.

Source: Senate Finance Committee