Azar: HHS ‘should be very proud’ of its achievements, life expectancy among them
The past 3 years were marked by historic accomplishments that put HHS in a strong position to tackle the challenges that lie ahead, HHS Secretary Alex Azar II said at a speech to his employees Thursday.
The previous achievements and upcoming issues revolve around three main themes: facilitating patient-centered markets in health care, protecting lives, and promoting independence, the Secretary added.
Some of the accomplishments that Azar discussed included:
- developing a test for the novel coronavirus, which has recently swept through China and infected more than 28,000 people, according to the latest WHO estimates;
- finalizing a requirement that makes hospitals disclose their prices to patients;
- issuing a draft rule that gives patients access to their own health care data for free;
- ensuring that transplant recipients receive appropriate medications before they are discharged from the hospital;
- overseeing reforms that made the average Medicare Advantage premiums the lowest in 13 years, Part D premiums the lowest in 7 years, and dropped retail prescription drug prices for the first time in 40 years;
- approving a record number of novel and generic drugs and biosimilars;
- laying groundwork for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada;
- securing a donation of Gilead Science’s HIV prevention medication, Truvada, for 200,000 uninsured Americans each year for up to 11 years;
- bringing the proportion of Ryan White HIV/AIDS program recipients who achieved viral suppression to 87%;
- continuing efforts to reduce smoking rates;
- promoting the importance of measles vaccinations as the number of cases soared in the U.S.;
- approving an Ebola vaccine;
- finalizing new Title X regulations;
- helping people with HIV get equal access to care; and
- approving the first-ever demonstration projects for states to use Medicaid to cover inpatient treatment for serious mental illness.
However, progress in the fight against America’s ongoing opioid epidemic was perhaps the most remarkable achievement for HHS, according to Azar.
“At long last, in 2018, we began to see results on the most important number of all,” he said. “For the first time in more than 2 decades, the number of drug overdose deaths declined by 4%, helping American life expectancy rise for the first time in 4 years. We’re winning because our strategy is working. The number of Americans receiving medication-assisted treatment has increased by 41% from 2016 until now. Since January 2017, the estimated total amount of opioids prescribed in America declined by 32%.”
‘We have our work cut out for us’
- Azar then shifted his focus to future challenges:
- curbing the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people;
- ending the HIV epidemic;
- tackling serious mental illness and addiction;
- working with Congress to achieve lasting reforms on drug pricing;
- delivering more health care transparency and consumer empowerment initiatives;
- continuing efforts to pay physicians for value rather than for procedures; and
- advancing research in areas like pediatric cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“In the year to come, and the 5 years I hope I have ahead, we have our work cut out for us,” Azar said. “We have lots to do — but the entire HHS family should be very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.” – by Janel Miller
Disclosure: Azar reports no relevant financial disclosures.