The Department of Health and Human Services runs a dizzying array of programs, from approving drugs and providing insurance for tens of millions of people to supporting adoption and foster care and combating infectious diseases—in total, more than 300 distinct programs that spend more than $1.3 trillion per year.
But even with this broad range of responsibilities, all of our work is focused on one single mission: enhancing and protecting everyone’s health and well-being. Under President Trump, we’ve pursued three clear strategies to ensure our programs are focused on accomplishing that mission: promoting patient-centered markets in healthcare, protecting life, and promoting independence.
What can we do to facilitate a patient-centered market for healthcare? We have to ensure that government payments and regulations put patients and their doctors in control, with the flexibility and power to make choices that work for them. Starting in January, everyone will be able to learn the price their insurer pays for a hospital service before they receive it. And thanks to reforms finalized this week, your health insurer will also have to tell you what they’re paying for a common service, and what it will likely cost you, before you get it. Thanks to our interoperability rule, patients will also now have the right to take their electronic health record seamlessly across providers.
We’ve dramatically accelerated a shift from paying doctors for procedures to paying them for results. Seniors in Medicare will soon benefit from new primary care models that will pay their doctors for keeping them healthy, and a significant share of those who suffer from kidney disease will soon begin benefiting from new payment models that incentivize transplants and home-based dialysis options.
Trump’s focus on patient-centered markets is delivering better care, more choices, and lower costs. Since the release of Trump’s drug-pricing blueprint in 2018, drug price inflation has been flat—in significant part thanks to three consecutive years of record-breaking generic drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration. Medicare Advantage premiums are down 34% since 2017, Medicare Part D premiums are down 12%, and more than 1,600 Medicare drug plans are now offering insulin at no more than $35 per month — an affordable option that’s never before existed.
We’re giving millions of workers more insurance choices, through expanded Health Reimbursement Arrangements that allow your employer to give you a contribution, tax-free, to shop for your own insurance. We’re allowing insurers to provide free coverage for medications required for chronic conditions like diabetes, even before you’ve hit your insurance deductible. We’ve made it possible for Medicare Advantage plans to offer more benefits that can help you stay healthy, like home-delivered meals or trips to the doctor’s office.
HHS’s role in protecting life has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic: We have deployed thousands of personnel across the country to deliver care, support testing, and assist state and local governments; delivered thousands of tons of personal protective equipment, and slashed regulatory barriers to provide flexibility to frontline healthcare providers. We have led, alongside the Department of Defense, the record-breaking effort to develop vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics through Operation Warp Speed.
But HHS’s work on life-or-death issues began long before the pandemic. We’ve made real progress against the national crisis of addiction and overdose over the last several years, with the number living with opioid use disorder dropping from 2.1 million to 1.6 million from 2018 to 2019 and the number receiving medication-assisted treatment rising by 38% since Trump took office. We’ve implemented the right-to-try law that Trump signed in 2018, giving patients a new avenue for access to experimental treatments when they face deadly illnesses.
HHS works to protect life abroad, too. We led the global effort to end the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history, supporting the first-ever vaccine and first-ever therapeutic for Ebola. We built an international coalition to hold the U.N. accountable for bullying pro-life developing countries. As part of that work, last week, we announced the Geneva Consensus Declaration, in which 33 nations, representing more than 1.6 billion people, committed to working together for better health for women, the preservation of human life at all stages, support for the family as foundational to a healthy society, and the protection of national sovereignty in global politics.
Finally, we’ve taken historic strides to promote independence, and all the benefits and health and well-being that come with it. Under the Administration for Children and Families’ efforts to promote adoption, the number of public adoptions reached its highest level in history in 2019, and the number of children waiting in the system to be adopted fell—giving thousands of children the support they need to grow up to be independent and healthy.
We’ve encouraged states to focus their cash welfare and child support programs on promoting work, and we laid out a set of principles for supporting high-quality childcare. We approved the first-ever demonstrations for states to use Medicaid to support in-patient treatment for serious mental illness, helping those who live with these challenges stay healthy.
All of these efforts are focused on ensuring that every part of HHS — our healthcare, human services, public health, and scientific programs — works better for the people we serve. That means supporting people in achieving what we all want for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country: a healthier, safer, more prosperous future.
Alex M. Azar II is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.