WASHINGTON — Alex Azar has been on the job for less than a month, but President Trump believes his new health and human services secretary is making progress toward a feat that’s long bedeviled politicians and a host of other health care experts: lowering drug prices.
“Secretary Alex Azar, who is really setting the world on fire now, huh, with your lowering of prescription drug prices and a lot of other things you’re doing, and we appreciate it very much,” Trump said, introducing him at a meeting on gun violence and school safety on Thursday. “A lot of people are seeing already what’s happening, especially the lowering of the price of health care.”
“Great going, Alex,” he added.
Azar, who was sworn in at the end of January, has frequently pointed to lowering prescription drug prices as a key component of his plans for HHS. But he’s not taken dramatic action on that subject yet. While Azar helped to roll out a series of proposals within the Trump administration’s 2019 budget request, those policies would have rather limited effects on drug list prices, experts have said.
The proposals take aim at various parts of Medicare and Medicaid drug spending. One would reduce the amount of reimbursement providers receive under Medicare Part B; others take aim at the 340B drug discount program for hospitals and at seniors’ out-of-pocket spending.
None of those policies has moved forward in the week since the announcement, either regulatorily or legislatively.
The only other major action HHS has taken during Azar’s short tenure is also still in the proposal stage, and it focuses on short-term health insurance plans, not drugs.
But Trump has expressed high expectations for Azar surrounding drug prices especially, saying at Azar’s swearing in ceremony, “Prescription drug prices is going to be one of the big things. Whenever I speak to Alex, I speak to him about that, I think, prior to anything else. And I know you can do it. You know the system. And you can do it because it’s wrong.”