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HHS Secretary Azar Testifies Before Education and Workforce Committee

Today, the Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), held an oversight hearing with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to review the Department’s policies and priorities.

 

As Chairwoman Foxx said in her opening remarks:

“This Committee’s dedication to oversight and building working relationships with the various administration departments are well-known and well documented . . . The members of this Committee are responsible for a wide legislative jurisdiction that means that the work we do can impact Americans in all stages and walks of life. In many cases, the Department of Health and Human Services is tasked with carrying out some of the laws that have their origins right here in this room, and that is why it’s important we hear from Secretary Azar.”

The Committee hearing focused on reviewing the work of HHS since Secretary Azar’s confirmation, as well as the Department’s policy priorities looking forward. A number of key issues were discussed, including:

HHS FY 2019 Budget

In February 2018, the Trump Administration released its FY 2019 budget for HHS, which aims to achieve $250 billion in net savings over the next decade through reforming health care. Secretary Azar testified that HHS is committed to promoting the well-being of the American people and revamping various programs under its jurisdiction, saying:

“HHS’s mission, to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans, is a vital one, and the President’s Budget clearly recognizes that. The Budget makes significant, strategic investments in HHS’s work. Among other targeted investments, the budget requests $34.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $5.8 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, $9.3 billion for Head Start, and $6.2 billion in child care funding.”

The Opioid Epidemic

To date, over 11 million Americans have been impacted by the opioid epidemic, and in October 2017, President Trump declared the epidemic a public health emergency. Last month, this Committee introduced four bipartisan bills to address the epidemic, with three of the bills directing HHS to disseminate information and best practices to improve the federal response to this emergency. The Secretary told members:

“[T]he Budget dedicates $1.2 billion to the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis grants, and invests $150 million specifically to confront the crisis in high-risk rural communities. Recognizing that we need new tools and private-sector innovation to defeat the epidemic, the Budget proposes $500 million to launch an NIH public-private partnership to develop new addiction treatments and non-addictive approaches to pain.

“We at HHS are pleased that Congress has responded to the President’s call for these investments, choosing to significantly boost HHS funding to confront the opioid crisis in this year’s omnibus spending bill.”

Access to Affordable Health Care Options

In the years since Obamacare took effect, Americans have experienced dwindling health coverage options paired with soaring health care costs. This has especially hurt small business owners’ ability to provide high-quality benefits to their employees. In October 2017, President Trump issued an executive order directing HHS and other agencies to use their regulatory authority to expand access to affordable health care options like association health plans (AHPs) – an issue this Committee has been leading the charge on with H.R. 1101, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, which was approved by the Committee and passed by the House of Representatives in 2017. The Secretary told members:

“The second priority I’ll highlight is our commitment to bringing down the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, especially in the individual market. The Budget proposes a historic transfer of resources and authority from the federal government back to the states, empowering those who are closest to the people and can best determine their needs. . .”

The Pathway Out of Poverty

The Committee has jurisdiction over several programs administered by HHS to promote safe, healthy, and self-reliant families. In March, this Committee held a hearing on how child care programs can play a pivotal role in the welfare system and help families escape the cycle of generational poverty. Secretary Azar testified:

“I want to highlight this Budget’s support for child care and early education programs. The Budget strongly supports Head Start and child care through financial investments, reductions in regulatory burdens on providers, and new incentives to reduce fraud.”

Looking Forward

Secretary Azar closed his testimony by reiterating that the President’s budget will promote financial responsibility so that the Department may continue to strengthen the health and well-being of the American people for years to come, saying:

“The President’s Budget will make the programs we run really work for the people they are meant to serve, including by making healthcare more affordable for all Americans. It will make sure that our programs are on a sound fiscal footing that will allow them to serve future generations. And it will make investments and reforms to strengthen our programs that serve families and communities.”

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