Healthcare Roundup—Azar: HHS’ drug blueprint an ‘original, American’ solution to rising prices 

Drugs and money
HHS Secretary Alex Azar touted the agency's work on drug prices at a summit on Thursday, plus more healthcare headlines. (Getty/LIgorko)

Azar: HHS’ drug blueprint an ‘original, American’ solution to rising prices 

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spoke at a drug price and value conference on Thursday morning, touting the agency’s efforts to lower costs. 

President Donald Trump unveiled the “American Patients First” plan in May, and since then agencies under HHS, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, have undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at boosting competition and preventing drug companies from gaming the system. 

But there’s still more to be done, Azar said. One area of future focus is value-based purchasing, he said, which HHS believes has “real potential.” However, it’s unreasonable to expect such contracts to be the norm in the industry any time soon, he said. 

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“We all know widespread use of these arrangements is not around the corner. In many situations, they will never be practical,” he said. “This is why we have them as a piece of our vision, but just a piece.” (Speech

House Energy and Commerce Committee marks up healthcare bills 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee considered several pieces of legislation on Thursday, including one that addresses pharmaceutical “gag clauses.” 

These clauses can prevent pharmacists from informing patients about the out-of-pocket costs associated with certain drugs. Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, said he learned about the issue from a pharmacist in his district. 

“Banning these gag clauses has bipartisan support—in both chambers—and I hope we can move this legislation forward today,” Walden said. 

The committee also considered a bill that would broaden state Medicaid fraud units’ abilities to investigate such cases. (Statement [PDF]

Planned Parenthood names Baltimore health commissioner Leana Wen as new president 

Leana Wen, who has served as Baltimore’s health commissioner since 2015, will become president of Planned Parenthood in November. 

Wen will be the first doctor to helm Planned Parenthood in 50 years. Wen oversaw a number of crucial programs in Baltimore, including the response to the opioid epidemic, an infant mortality reduction program and public health campaigns on gun violence. 

Wen and the Baltimore City Health Department also sued the Trump administration in March for cutting funds for teen pregnancy prevention—money that was later restored by a federal judge. 

“As a patient, I depended on Planned Parenthood for medical care at various times in my own life, and as a public health leader, I have seen firsthand the lifesaving work it does for our most vulnerable communities,” Wen said. (Announcement

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