By Amy Goldstein and Laurie McGinley | The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers on Tuesday that he wants to preserve access to affordable insurance for Americans with preexisting medical conditions, but he declined to disclose his view of an administration move that could undercut such consumer protections.
Calling it “a constitutional position … not a policy position,” Azar sidestepped grilling on whether he agreed with a legal brief filed last week by Justice Department attorneys stating they would not defend the Affordable Care Act in a federal lawsuit by Texas and 19 other Republican-led states.
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During a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that was mainly about the president’s blueprint to address drug prices, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., told Azar that Justice’s legal position is a “like some kind of a sick joke.” The administration argues that the ACA’s individual mandate, requiring most people to carry health insurance, will become unconstitutional next year — and, with it, the law’s insurance protections for consumers.
“Will you encourage the Trump administration to change its position?” Hassan challenged Azar, a lawyer and former HHS general counsel. He replied that “we do believe in finding solutions on the matter of preexisting conditions and the matter of affordability regardless of the litigation.”
The committee’s Republicans were silent on the question, even though some GOP lawmakers have said they were bewildered by Justice’s surprise stance. The move has become a lightning rod ahead of the November midterm elections.
Democrats also pressed Azar on a statement by President Donald Trump late last month that drug companies would, within two weeks, “announce voluntary, massive drops in prices.”
“That would be tomorrow,” noted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., challenging Azar to name companies that have carried out Trump’s promise.
The secretary said several drug manufacturers have told federal officials “they want to execute substantial price reductions” but are “encountering hurdles.” Pharmacy benefit managers, he said, are threatening to drop those companies’ drugs from formularies — that is, lists of medicines covered by an insurer — because lower list prices would translate into smaller profits for the PBMs. “I find that unconscionable,” he said.
Azar’s remarks were consistent with the administration’s portrayal of “middle men,” not the pharmaceutical industry itself, as the …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Health