Trump Admin Applauds UnitedHealth’s Price Transparency Push

Robert Donachie | Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar applauded UnitedHealthcare’s move to increase price transparency in the health care marketplace, an initiative Azar put at the top of his agenda since President Donald Trump appointed him in 2017.

“Today’s announcement by UnitedHealthcare is a prime example of the type of movement toward transparency and lower drug prices for millions of patients that the Trump Administration is championing,” Azar said in a statement Tuesday. “Empowering patients and providers with the information and control to put them in the driver’s seat is a key part of our strategy at the Department of Health and Human Services to bring down the price of drugs and make healthcare more affordable.”

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The health care company will stop keeping millions in discounts it receives from drug companies and will instead share those discounts with its customers, UnitedHealthcare announced Tuesday.

Pharmaceutical makers and insurance companies are in an ongoing standoff. Drug manufacturers blame insurance companies for not redistributing rebates with customers, claiming insurance providers could do more to help lower prescription drug costs if they shared rebates.

Insurance providers claim to use rebates to help lower consumers’ insurance costs.

The policy will apply to in excess of seven million individuals who are enrolled in its fully insured insurance plans. Those changes will not take effect until 2019, UnitedHealthcare President Dan Schumacher said.

“UnitedHealthcare is uniquely positioned to deliver new value and clarity to health care, and pharmacy benefits in particular,” Schumacher said. “Our differentiated pharmacy model, powered by OptumRx, is delivering solutions that lead to better health outcomes and make prescription drugs more affordable.”

“The benefit could range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars to over a thousand,” Schumacher added.

The administration recently disclosed its plans to help lower the costs of prescription drugs and medical costs, to The Daily Caller News Foundation and a few other outlets.

Health and Human Services is framing the issue through two key questions, Azar told TheDCNF. “How can we try to start flipping some of those incentives in the system geared towards higher prices? How do we find pockets of our programs where we maybe don’t negotiate enough or have people negotiating on our behalf to get as good of a deal?” He noted.

The administration is targeting a number of federal agencies — such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and federal policies such as Medicaid (Parts B and D) — to accomplish those objectives.

Azar rolled out a proposal Monday for a value-based health care system, arguing for one more cost effective and transparent than the current market for health care in the U.S.

“We at HHS see stakeholders, including our nation’s hospitals, as part of the solution to our country’s many healthcare challenges. We recognize that it’s not just government that wants better healthcare for all Americans. Our partners in the private sector, all of you, want the same,” Azar said Monday in a speech to the Federation of American Hospitals.

The administration is focused on taking steps toward lowering U.S. citizens’ care costs while instituting a series of reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, Azar added. The administration also wants to add price transparency — a missing feature of the U.S. health care market — to allow consumers to shop around for the best price, as they would for virtually every other good or service.

The administration isn’t alone in its push for greater price transparency.

GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Todd Young of Indiana, along with Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tom Carper of Delaware, are pushing what they call a “health care price transparency initiative.”

Republicans are focusing on price transparency in 2018, after failing a handful of times to repeal and replace Obamacare during Trump’s first year in the White House.

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