- HHS on Friday released a report touting its 2017 accomplishments, including regulatory rollbacks and cost savings.
- The 37-page report highlighted some actions that are priorities for the Trump administration, but which have sharply divided the healthcare industry. It said 70 regulatory actions were withdrawn last year and more than $3 billion was recovered through efforts to stop waste, fraud and abuse.
- It also pointed to a final rule that cuts hospital payments from the 340B Drug Pricing Program, saying it will save $3.2 billion. Hospitals fiercely oppose the cut and are challenging the rule in court.
Regardless of your position on the events the report highlights, you can’t argue HHS under the Trump administration didn't have a busy first year. That includes the ouster of Tom Price, who resigned as secretary of the department in September after news reports that he spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on private air travel for him and his staff. Just this week Congress confirmed his replacement, former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar.
Unsurprisingly, that shakeup is not mentioned in the report. Neither is the cancelation of cost-sharing payments to insurers, one of the more unpopular executive actions of the past year. The document does refer to the repeal of the individual mandate in a tax overhaul bill passed last month, calling the mandate a “tax on working families.” The industry widely opposed mandate repeal, and experts say it could lead to unbalanced risk pools, fewer benefits and higher premiums.
In a section titled Advancing Patient-Centered Healthcare and Healthcare Reform, the report notes changes HHS implemented to the ACA open enrollment period. It says it conducted enrollment “at significantly lower cost than in previous years.”
It does not mention the savings are in large part from cutting the open enrollment period in half and slashing the advertising budget by 90%.
The shortened enrollment period and frequent weekend downtime for the ACA website used to sign up for coverage may challenge the report’s assertion that enrollment last year was “consumer-friendly.”
The section on regulatory rollback mentions excluding more small providers from MACRA requirements and approving several state Medicaid waivers. It also says the department initiated reviews of more than 20% of FDA’s total regulations and met frequently with outside organizations and practitioners.
Another highlight from the report is efforts in the past year to combat the opioid crisis. In October, President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a national health emergency, but attached no funding to the designation. The HHS report documents several community grants amounting to about $800 million fighting the opioid crisis, but experts say the intractable problem will require far more investment.