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Remarks to Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee

Alex M. Azar II
Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee
May 10, 2018
Washington, D.C.

We know that the opioid crisis has hit American Indian and Alaska Native communities as hard as it has anywhere. The crisis has been a top priority of this administration from Day One, but I’ve encouraged our leaders to redouble our efforts and think as big and as bold as possible.

As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us here in Washington for this important meeting.

In particular, I’d like to thank Chairman [Chester] Antone for his service in leading the STAC.

It’s a pleasure to be here at my first STAC meeting, and I know this week is a first STAC meeting for some of you as well. I hope you have had a productive meeting with our top HHS officials over the last couple of days.

While this meeting is a new opportunity for me to hear from you, our tribal work at HHS is certainly not new to me.

I had the honor of working closely on tribal health and human services issues during the Bush administration, including with some of you—and with several members of our team who have returned to serve at HHS under this administration, like Deputy Secretary Hargan.

We both worked under Secretary Mike Leavitt, who was a great believer in convening—in bringing people together to build and implement a vision.

In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if, when Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius came up with the idea to start the STAC, Secretary Leavitt was kicking himself, wishing he’d come up with such an idea back when he was secretary.

I have great hopes for what we can achieve together, through our government-to-government relationship, to support the health and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Our work on these issues has already begun in earnest: Earlier this year, for instance, my team and I worked with OMB to request from Congress a major capital investment for IHS, nearly $4 billion to address facilities backlogs. As just one example, that would have entirely cleared the Health Care Facilities Construction Priority list.

We look forward to continued work with Congress to address these capital needs.

I’m also very pleased the next meeting of the STAC will be held outside of D.C., in Alaska. I have fond memories of my multiple trips to Alaska as deputy secretary and the lessons I learned from firsthand experience there were valuable.

Today, I want to first touch on a couple priorities I’ve laid out for HHS that will be of interest to some of you: combating our country’s opioid epidemic and bringing down the high price of prescription drugs.

We know that the opioid crisis has hit American Indian and Alaska Native communities as hard as it has anywhere.

The crisis has been a top priority of this administration from Day One, but I’ve encouraged our leaders to redouble our efforts and think as big and as bold as possible.

That was the message I relayed at a recent meeting of our HHS leaders and subject matter experts on the crisis, which included Rear Admiral [Michael] Weahkee and several other IHS experts.

As we formulate plans at HHS to combat the epidemic, we will look to consult with tribal communities and leaders about how it’s best tackled in the unique settings of Indian Country.

We are pleased that this year’s omnibus bill provided funding for a new Opioid Response Grant program at SAMHSA, which included a set-aside specifically for tribes to receive grants.

Even as the opioid crisis has spread across the country, we know the solutions don’t look the same everywhere, and our efforts will reflect that.

I also want to mention our soon-to-be-released blueprint for lowering the price of prescription drugs.

The affordability of healthcare and medications is a real challenge for all Americans, tribal members included.

Tomorrow, I’ll be joining the President for a major speech on drug pricing, where we’ll be unveiling a blueprint for how to fix our broken system of paying for prescription drugs.

We believe building a better system will yield benefits for all Americans who need expensive drugs to treat or manage health conditions, whether they get their care through Medicare, Medicaid, IHS or private insurance.

The same goes for the other two departmental priorities I’ve laid out: transforming our health system into one that pays for value, and increasing the affordability and accessibility of insurance in the individual market.

It is also a priority of this administration, as you know, to ensure that our federal programs are promoting economic independence and self-sufficiency—to make them a pathway out of poverty.

We believe that community engagement activities, whether it’s work, job training, education or some other activity, can be a great contributor to health.

Providing incentives to encourage such activity is an important part of our mission at HHS. We’re working to provide those incentives from the federal level, but this vision is best implemented locally, where governments know the needs of the people best.

In Medicaid, we believe the state governments, which administer the program, will be able to work with tribal governments in designing and implementing community engagement requirements, and we are giving both parties the flexibility to do that.

We are glad to have reached a resolution on this issue, and we’ve reminded states that they are expected to consult with the tribal governments within their borders in crafting community engagement requirements.

I don’t want to go on any longer because I want to hear from you, but in closing, I want to reiterate our desire to work with you to set priorities for the STAC under this administration.

We understand each of you represents tribes and regions with specific challenges, but we urge you to work together to outline some unifying goals and priorities for how to advance our government-to-government relationship and HHS’s tribal work under this administration.

Setting such goals will help focus the work HHS does with your governments to improve the health and well-being of every American Indian and Alaska Native.

So we look forward to hearing from you in the future on that, and now let’s get started on our discussion here today.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on May 10, 2018