- HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday urged hospital executives to speed the shift of services from hospitals to other settings, saying it saves money and produces better results.
- In the speech to the American Hospital Association, Azar plugged HHS’ effort in the Medicare 2019 proposed hospital inpatient payment rule to increase price transparency, adding that the requirement for hospitals to post standard charges in a machine-readable format online is only a first step to combating practices such as surprise billing.
- The secretary also previewed President Donald Trump’s forthcoming drug pricing speech Friday, saying that high list prices for pharmaceuticals set by drug manufacturers is a concern for HHS. The department is also examining solutions to how a lack of negotiating tools may be leading to higher drug prices for government programs, the impact of rising out-of-pocket costs for consumers and what he characterized as free-riding by other countries.
Azar's speech comes shortly after he was hospitalized for diverticulitis, an experience that he said crystallized the importance of making progress toward interoperability, price transparency and more affordable healthcare.
He also called attention to a request for information on a new direct provider contracting proposal within Medicare, saying the idea is one example of how HHS is trying “to reduce burdens on providers.” CMS is in the process of drafting a large deregulatory package, he added.
“We are mindful of how [regulations] could be driving consolidation in the marketplace," Azar said. "As a matter of principle, we want to move to a system where our regulations and payment systems are agnostic about ownership structures. Economics and competition should drive markets, not us.”
Despite the tough talk on drug manufacturers, the drug pricing elements in Azar’s speech to AHA echoed a similar speech to the World Health Care Congress that Cowen Research Group’s Rick Weissenstein warned may not be as meaningful as it appears at first glance.
“Azar does not say they plan to go beyond what was in the budget or Counsel of Economic Advisers (CEA) documents. He says the President wants to. In Washington speak that is a big difference,” Weissenstein wrote in a policy note.