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Former Congressman Dr. Phil Gingrey provides public policy and government relations counsel to clients on a variety of issues. Here at Phil on the Hill, Phil draws upon his long career in public service to provide perspective and context on policy topics such as health care, the federal budget, annual appropriations, regulatory reform, and life sciences.

Health Care Needs More Stability from Washington

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Health care is by its nature a dynamic and uncertain field. Researchers are always working to pull together grants to keep the centrifuges spinning and Bunsen burners burning. Hospitals must continually untie a tangle of HR, regulatory, budgetary and technology issues while delivering quality health care. Health care providers have to develop efficient business solutions that improve the quality of care and are tailored specifically to the individual communities they serve.
Tasked with a constant juggling act, health care leaders benefit when policies from Washington are predictable and government itself is stable. 
President Trump took a big step toward promoting stability by nominating Alex Azar as his new Secretary of Health and Human Services. A former pharmaceutical executive with policy and management experience at the highest levels of HHS, he brings a combination of issue expertise, political know-how and ideas to one of the most important jobs in Washington. 
I don’t know him, but I do know a quality resume when I see one. Alex Azar served on the board of Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, where he grew close to then-governor Mike Pence. Before that, he served as the general counsel and later deputy secretary of HHS during the Bush 41 Administration. This mix of business and government experience makes Azar a good pick for the top HHS job at any time, but his record of knowing how to both manage and lead – which require different skills – and having deep health policy subject matter knowledge makes him a man for our times.

As conservative as he is — he once clerked for the late Antonin Scalia — Alex Azar is recognized on both sides of the aisle as an expert with a zeal for solutions. Dan Mendelson, the head of Avalere Health, summed it up best by saying that Alex Azar “is well accepted by Democratic policy people by having good policy wonk credentials.” 

However, as good as this pick seems, Azar can do little alone. I have written in this blog about my support of the call for a return to regular order in Congress. That is precisely the type of help that the soon-to-be Secretary Azar will need. In fact, the whole health care sector would benefit from the predictability and foreseeability that regular order can bring.
Most of you will remember the budget debate several months ago, with its typical threats of government shutdown, which resulted in a continuing resolution (CR) for the customary appropriations bills. Congress only managed to kick the can as far as December 8, leaving us to once again stare down a budget deadline shortly after we all return from the Thanksgiving holiday. 
Passing the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (LHHS) appropriations bill would go a long way toward establishing predictability for caregivers and healers. It would help with long-term planning for research at the National Institutes of Health, support local and state health agencies to better prepare for infectious diseases like the flu, and allow hospitals to plan ahead and operate more smoothly. A more predictable process would allow everyone to work in tandem to make sure Americans are receiving the best health care possible. 
We need to get past this continuing irresolution. Congress, and that means Democrats as well as the Republican majority, should partner with the new secretary and America’s health care providers by passing the funding bills on time, and take other quick action on important, traditionally bipartisan issues like reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Health care providers and the nation certainly would have a lot to give thanks for if our elected officials take these important actions.