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Testimony from Alex M. Azar II on Secretary Azar's Oral Testimony on the President's FY 2021 Budget before House Committee on Ways and Means

Secretary Azar's Oral Testimony on the President's FY 2021 Budget
House Committee on Ways and Means
Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 09:30

As Prepared for Delivery

Chairman Neal and Ranking Member Brady, thank you for inviting me to discuss the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

I am honored to appear before this committee for budget testimony as HHS Secretary for the second time, especially after the remarkable year of results that the HHS team has produced. With support from this committee, this past year, we saw the number of drug overdose deaths decline for the first time in decades; another record year of generic drug approvals from FDA; and historic drops in Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and exchange premiums.

The President's Budget aims to move toward a future where HHS programs work better for the people we serve; where our human services programs put people at the center; and where America's healthcare system is affordable, personalized, puts patients in control, and treats you like a human being, not a number.

HHS has the largest discretionary budget of any non-defense department, which means that difficult decisions must be made to put discretionary spending on a sustainable path.

The President's Budget proposes to protect what works in our healthcare system and make it better. I'll mention two ways we do that: first, facilitating patient-centered markets, and, second, tackling key, impactable health challenges.

The Budget's healthcare reforms aim to put the patient at the center. It would, for instance, eliminate cost-sharing for colonoscopies, a life-saving preventive service. We would reduce patients' costs and promote competition by paying the same for certain services regardless of setting, The Budget endorses bipartisan, bicameral drug pricing legislation, and the overall reforms will improve Medicare and extend the life of the hospital insurance fund for at least 25 years.

We propose investing $116 million in HHS's initiative to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, and we propose reforms to tackle America's rural health crisis, including telehealth expansions and new flexibility for rural hospitals.

I want to thank this committee for its attention to these issues. Today, I'm pleased to announce, I am appointing former Kansas governor Jeff Colyer as Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, where he will work closely with me and senior HHS leaders on our Rural Health Task Force to develop creative responses for this challenge.

The Budget increases investments to combat the opioid epidemic, including SAMHSA's State Opioid Response program, which we have focused on providing medication-assisted treatment while working with Congress to give states flexibility to address stimulants like methamphetamines.

We request $716 million for the President's initiative to end the HIV epidemic in America, which we've already begun implementing with Congress's support.

The Budget reflects how seriously we take the threat of other infectious diseases, such as the novel coronavirus. It prioritizes CDC's infectious disease programs, raising spending by $135 million from FY2020 levels to $4.3 billion, and maintains $675 million in state and local preparedness funding.

We have only 15 cases of the novel coronavirus detected here in the United States; alongside 3 cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan; and 42 cases among American passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess.

As President Trump, Vice President Pence, and I emphasized yesterday, the immediate risk to the American public remains low—in significant part because of the President's decisive actions so far.

We are working closely with state, local, and private sector partners to prepare for mitigating the virus's potential spread in the United States, because we expect to see more cases here.

In terms of identifying cases, CDC has been able to test 3,625 specimens as of this morning. At least 40 public health laboratories should now be able to test using modified existing CDC test kits. In addition, a newly manufactured CDC test can be sent to 93 public health labs as soon as Monday, and there is a privately manufactured test based on the new CDC test that can be sent to those same labs as soon as tomorrow, pending FDA clearance.

On Monday, OMB sent a request to make funding available for preparedness and response, including for therapeutics, vaccines, personal protective equipment, state and local support, and surveillance.

As the President made clear yesterday, we are open to your views on what levels of spending may be appropriate. As Chairman of the President's coronavirus task force, and working in conjunction with the administration's lead for the virus, Vice President Pence, I look forward to engaging with Congress on that.

This year's Budget aims to protect and enhance Americans' well-being and deliver Americans a more affordable, personalized healthcare system that works better, rather than just spends more. I look forward to working with this committee to make that commonsense goal a reality.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL)
Content last reviewed on February 28, 2020