HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s Reform Mantra: ‘Common Sense’

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that he’s adopted a mantra as he looks to potential insurance and healthcare reform: “common sense.”

Azar met with reporters Tuesday morning to touch on a number of initiatives at the department, including the proposed rule that would expand the coverage period for short-term insurance plans.

The newly confirmed head of HHS said that allowing for short-term plans offers another choice for people who may not be able to afford insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. While Azar said that these plans would not be options for everyone, he believes that they provide additional choices for people who may lack insurance coverage.

“I do hope what we’re proposing…is something all states look at,” Azar said.

HHS is looking to move forward quickly with the rule, depending on what comments the agency receives on the proposal. The proposed rule is open for comments for 60 days, and Azar said HHS is hoping to have it in finalized in mid-spring after that comment period ends.

Idaho has already taken steps to offer these plans, which are not required to meet Affordable Care Act coverage mandates. Blue Cross of Idaho is the first insurer in the state to announce it intends to sell the short-term plans.

As for what HHS’ proposed rule means for the Idaho case, Azar said he is “not in a position” to comment on the matter. He said he has not studied that specific state’s plans closely and has not been party to conversations with HHS officials on Idaho’s policy.

Azar also distanced himself from the discussions about Idaho when testifying before Congress last week on the Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal.

“All we’ve seen is a press report that the Blues have submitted an application,” Azar said.

Azar also touched on other reforms the administration is pursuing, including allowing states to test work requirements in their Medicaid programs. He said there is “no single right answer” on how Medicaid should operate, as states have different needs.

“I’m a big believer in state experimentation,” Azar said.

He said the administration is still banking on a repeal of the ACA through the Graham-Cassidy measure, which the White House built into its budget proposal. If that doesn’t pan out, Azar plans to explore ways allow states more flexibility, which is part of the thought process behind the work requirements.

The philosophy behind the administration’s Medicaid plans is to restore balance and enhance sustainability in the program, according to Azar. Reforms like allowing work requirements, he said, eliminate barriers for people looking to move from dependence on Medicaid to independence.

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