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HHS Secretary Azar Says It’s ‘Not Time to be Timid’ in Pursuing Value


HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II lays out top four HHS initiatives and calls on payers and providers to align.

The Trump Administration sees payers and providers as partners who can help improve care quality and reduce care costs, and HHS will do more to help make that shift to value successful.

That’s according to HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II, who spoke at the AHIP National Health Policy Conference 2018 in Washington D.C., on March 8.

“We at HHS see stakeholders, including America’s health insurers, as part of the solution to this country’s many healthcare challenges,” Azar said. “… This is no time to be timid, today’s healthcare system is simply not delivering outcomes commensurate with its cost.”

He acknowledged that many payers have already taken the lead in shifting to value, yet federal programs have not always kept pace. That’s going to change, he said, adding, “We are not afraid of disrupting the system simply because it is backed by special interests.”


Top HHS initiatives

Azar said HHS is focused on four key areas:  

  • Giving consumers greater control over health information through interoperable and accessible health IT.
  • Encouraging transparency from payers and providers.
  • Using experimental models in Medicare and Medicaid to drive value and quality throughout the entire system.
  • Removing government burdens that impede this transformation.

These initiatives-the shift to value and putting patients at the center of care-will not be “easy or painless,” he said. “Putting the healthcare consumer in charge, letting them determine value, is a radical reorientation from the way that American healthcare has worked for the past century.”

Azar said fulfilling these initiatives may even require an “uncomfortable degree” of federal intervention.

“That may sound surprising coming from an Administration that deeply believes in the power of markets and competition,” he said. “But the status quo is far from a competitive-free market in the economic sense of the term, and healthcare is such a complex system, that facilitating a competitive, value-based marketplace is going to be disruptive to existing actors. Simply put, our current system may be working for many. But it’s not working for patients, and it’s not working for taxpayers.”

Technology role

HHS recently announced its new initiative, MyHealthEData, which aims to break down the barriers preventing patients from accessing and controlling their medical records.

Part of the program will include the revival of the Medicare Blue Button initiative, which allows patients to download their health data with the simple click. Blue Button 2.0 is a standards-based application programming interface that will aim to connect Medicare beneficiary claims data to secure applications, which will give patients control over that information.

For more on the initiative, read: “Trump administration promotes patient ownership of health data” and “Trump Admin Shares Vision for Patient-Centered Health System.”

Azar referenced the initiative during his speech, noting that the goal is to put patients and providers in charge of data. This will require putting claims data into formats easily used by patients, and even app developers, he said.  More than 100 companies, including real leaders in the tech world, are already signed up.

He called on private payers to put their claims data into formats that are usable to app developers.

Azar added that HHS has several other initiatives in the works to expand interoperability and usability. For example: Developing measures to remove information blocking and overhauling the Meaningful Use program incentives to better focus on encouraging interoperability.

He said the Trump Administration is calling on doctors, hospitals, payers, and drug companies and pharmacies, to be more transparent about price and outcomes. “If that doesn’t happen, we have plenty of levers to pull or push it along,” he said.


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