Testimony from Alex M. Azar II on Secretary Azar's Oral Testimony before House Energy & Commerce Committee
Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Chairman Pallone and Chairwoman Eshoo, Ranking Members Walden and Burgess, 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 I want to thank this committee for your bipartisan work to pass legislation, such as the CREATES Act, to cut patient costs and save taxpayer dollars through lower drug prices.
The Budget's 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. The Budget increases investments to combat the opioid epidemic, including SAMHSA's State Opioid Response program. This successful grant program grew out of this committee's creation of the State Targeted Response grants in the Cures Act, and we were pleased to work with Congress to provide flexibility on the SOR grants for states to address stimulants like methamphetamines.
We request $716 million for the President's initiative to end the HIV epidemic in America by using effective, evidence-based tools. Thanks to support from Congress, we've already begun implementation of the initiative.
The Budget reflects how seriously we take the threat of other infectious diseases, such as the novel coronavirus, by prioritizing funding for CDC's infectious disease programs and maintaining investments in hospital preparedness.
As of this morning, we still had only 14 cases of the novel coronavirus detected in the United States, involving travel to China or close contacts with travelers; coming into this hearing, I was informed we have a 15th confirmed case, the epidemiology of which we are still discerning. 3 cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan; and 42 cases among American passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess.
While the immediate risk to the American public remains low, there is now community transmission in a number of countries, including outside of Asia, which is deeply concerning. We are working closely with state, local, and private sector partners to prepare for mitigating the virus's potential spread in the United States, as we expect to see more cases here.
On Monday, OMB sent a request to make at least $2.5 billion in funding available for preparedness and response, including for therapeutics, vaccines, personal protective equipment, state and local support, and surveillance. I look forward to working closely 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.