Alex Azar’s confirmation as HHS secretary: 1 group believes he is a threat to Americans’ healthcare

Alex Azar
The Senate voted Wednesday 55-43 to confirm Alex Azar as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. (Wwsgconnect)

A coalition of healthcare chief executives believes Alex Azar will be a “conscientious steward of federal health programs” in his new role as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Indeed, most healthcare industry trade groups issued public statements of support and congratulations after the Senate voted Wednesday 55-43 to confirm the former head of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations to fill the position after the resignation in September of Tom Price, M.D.

The Healthcare Leadership Council, America’s Physician Group, America’s Health Insurance Plans praised the confirmation.

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But Health Care Voter, a coalition of approximately 30 progressive organizations formed last summer to turn the 2018 midterms into a referendum on healthcare, issued a statement that said Azar’s confirmation is an example of the Republican Party’s agenda to put “profits over people.” His appointment to the new role is a” direct threat to Americans’ healthcare,” the group said.

“The Republican Party has made their agenda clear: stripping 13 million people of their health coverage was not enough, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage Americans’ access to healthcare. To further undermine our healthcare system, Trump replaced disgraced former Secretary Tom Price with a man who has devoted his life to profiting off of our country's sick and vulnerable,” said the group’s spokeswoman Emma Shapiro in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare.

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During his confirmation hearings, the group said Azar refused to end the Trump administration’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act, endorsed Republican proposals to gut Medicaid and refused to admit his role in manipulating drug prices. “The American people deserve leaders who will protect our care —and those who voted to confirm Azar will answer to healthcare voters at the polls.”

Also skeptical: The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which said in a statement that in his new role, Azar must demonstrate integrity and commitment to making quality healthcare, including reproductive health, affordable and accessible. Failure to do so, the group, said will have far-reaching, negative consequences for underserved and uninsured communities. “NLIRH will be watching, and we will be holding Mr. Azar accountable for upholding HHS’ mission,” said Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations for the organization.

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But the Healthcare Leadership Council was pleased with the appointment, noting that Azar was a former member of the group and served on its executive committee.

“Secretary Azar is a strong proponent of transitioning our healthcare system to one that emphasizes value in the form of improved health outcomes delivered with greater cost-efficiency,” said Mary Grealy, president of the alliance, adding that his experience in both the federal government and the private sector will enable him to be particularly effective in leading the largest and most complex civilian cabinet department.

“There is no question that Secretary Azar will be a conscientious steward of federal health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and will work to improve the quality of care provided to the millions of Americans who depend upon them,” she said.

America's Physician Groups also applauded the confirmation, noting that during his hearings, Azar emphasized his commitment to implementing alternative payment models to help improve quality, integration, and care coordination, while reducing costs.

“Our members are experts in these responsible payment models. For decades, they have been committed to finding innovative ways to keep people and communities healthy while embracing payment methodologies—including capitation—that make them accountable for both cost and quality,” Donald Crane, president and CEO of the association for accountable physician groups, said. “We look forward to working with Secretary Azar to build on the progress that has been made and look for new opportunities to advance the value movement.”

And Marilyn Tavenner, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said the group appreciates Azar’s “experience in the public service and the private sector, his collaborative approach, and his perspectives for improving healthcare, including addressing the high list prices that have made prescriptions unaffordable for millions of Americans. “