VIDEO: Azar Discusses HME With Senate Finance

Sen. Thune queries HHS Secretary nominee on the CURES Act and the Interim Final Rule regarding rural and non-bid area reimbursement.

Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Alex M. Azar II spoke to the Senate Finance Committee regarding two DME-related issues during his confirmation hearing today.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) queried Azar on two HME industry-related issues:

  • The CURES Act requirement for HHS to study the impact of competitive bidding on the total population of HME providers and patient access to HME over the course of 2016.
  • The Interim Final Rule (IFR) on bid expansion that has been sitting at the Office of Management and Budget since August. The IFR would resume the 50/50, blended fee schedule for rural and non-bid areas that was in effect during the phase-in of national bid expansion during Jan. 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016, and apply it to claims submitted between Aug. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018. It would also exclude home infusion drugs used with HME from competitive bidding.

Video of Thune and Azar’s dialogue:

(Also available at https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4704804/sen-thune-dmepos-question.)

“HHS was supposed to have issued a report to Congress — and this came per the 21st Century CURES Act — on beneficiary access by Jan. 12, 2017,” Thune noted. “I’m not aware of this report having been completed, so I’d request that once confirmed you would work to have that report completed quickly.

“Additionally, if confirmed, I would ask will you commit to working with the office of management and budget to quickly approve the interim final rule to provide relief for rural providers that has been pending — the rule that is — since October 2017,” he asked.

Azar’s answer was positive, which should give HME industry advocates some room for optimism, but his extremely concise response also didn’t shed much light on his perspective.

“Yes, Senator, I’d be happy to work on those issues,” Azar replied.

The American Association for Homecare had noted in an earlier membership update that it had submitted questions to Senate Finance for committee members to ask Azar.

A Choice Not Without Controversy

Azar would fill the spot left open by the previous HHS Secretary, Tom Price, who resigned from the post after it was revealed he routinely used expensive charter flights for government travel. 

Azar served as the General Counsel for HHS prior to becoming Deputy Secretary, and he is also the former president of the U.S. division of pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly and Company.

That corporate background drew critiques from Democratic lawmakers concerned over whether nominee Azar’s loyalties were to the taxpayers, or to his prior pharmaceutical industry connections. Such was the case for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who drove this point home in her questioning of Azar during the hearing, and tweeted about it afterward:

In contrast, GOP members of the committee tweeted their support of Azar, using Chairman Sen. Orin Hatch's (R-Utha) initial comments at the hearing to summarize their position:

About the Author

David Kopf is the Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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