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HHS provides states second installment of grant awards to combat opioid crisis

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 19:00

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is releasing the second year of funding to 50 states, four U.S. territories, and the free associated states of Palau and Micronesia, totaling $485 million to continue the Nation’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis. “The Trump Administration is partnering with states and territories to accelerate the deployment of this historic level of resources provided by the Congress to fight the epidemic,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “These funds will help support evidence-based efforts at the state level to prevent misuse of opioids in the first place, expand access to effective treatment options for people in need, and support recovery for those who have prevailed.” The Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grants, which were created by the 21st Century Cures Act, are administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within HHS. Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use said, “Within the first year, we have already seen states use the funding to support innovative models to connect Americans with the evidence-based programs and practices proven to help people who have opioid use disorders.” Grantees have used first year funding to implement effective medication-assisted treatment, promote the use of naloxone and key prevention strategies, and build sustainable systems of recovery support services across the country. Prevention efforts include communications campaigns along with use of proven community-based strategies. People in recovery, friends, and family members with personal experience are helping enhance recovery support. This funding is just one more step in implementing HHS’ comprehensive five-pronged strategy to address the opioid crisis. Within the next few months, SAMHSA will release details of a separate $1 billion grant funding opportunity for states, territories, and tribes hardest hit by the crisis. This new funding is expected to be awarded in September 2018. People grappling with substance use disorders can find treatment resources at SAMHSA’s site: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP. People who could use help determining which treatment provider is appropriate for their needs can find free guidance at https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Finding-Quality-Treatment-for-Substance-Use-Disorders/PEP18-TREATMENT-LOC. More information on HHS work to combat the opioid crisis can be viewed at https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/ Details of the funding amounts for each state and territory: Opioid State Targeted Response Grants Year Two Funding Table State Year 2 Authorized Amount (Total: $484,491,838) Alabama $7,967,873 Alaska $2,000,000 American Samoa $250,000 Arizona $12,171,518 Arkansas $3,901,295 California $44,749,771 Colorado $7,869,651 Connecticut $5,500,157 Delaware $2,000,000 District of Columbia $2,000,000 Federated States of Micronesia $250,000 Florida $27,150,403 Georgia $11,782,710 Hawaii $2,000,000 Idaho $2,000,000 Illinois $16,328,583 Indiana $10,925,992 Iowa $2,728,077 Kansas $3,114,402 Kentucky $10,528,093 Louisiana $8,167,971 Maine $2,039,029 Maryland $10,036,784 Massachusetts $11,742,924 Michigan $16,372,680 Minnesota $5,379,349 Mississippi $3,584,652 Missouri $10,015,898 Montana $2,000,000 Nebraska $2,000,000 Nevada $5,663,328 New Hampshire $3,128,366 New Jersey $12,995,621 New Mexico $4,792,551 New York $25,260,676 North Carolina $15,586,724 North Dakota $2,000,000 Northern Mariana $250,000 Ohio $26,060,502 Oklahoma $7,283,229 Oregon $6,564,425 Palau $250,000 Pennsylvania $26,507,559 Puerto Rico $4,811,962 Rhode Island $2,167,007 South Carolina $6,575,623 South Dakota $1,999,997 Tennessee $13,815,132 Texas $27,362,357 Utah $5,537,458 Vermont $2,000,0[...]



Secretary Azar Announces Appointment of James Parker

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 16:00

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that James Parker will serve as Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Health Reform and Director of the Office of Health Reform at HHS. Mr. Parker will lead the initiative to address the cost and availability of health insurance.

Upon this announcement, Secretary Azar said: “Jim Parker has spent his life working in the private sector to provide Americans access to quality, affordable health insurance. His knowledge and expertise will be vital to our work at HHS to ensure that Americans have access to insurance that meets their needs.”

This follows the recent announcement of Daniel M. Best to serve as Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform and Brett Giroir, M.D., to serve as Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Mental Health and Opioid Policy, in addition to his duties as Assistant Secretary for Health.

These individuals will help advance three of Secretary Azar’s previously identified four initiatives for his transformation agenda: combating the opioid crisis; bringing down the high cost of prescription drugs; addressing the cost and availability of health insurance; and transforming our healthcare system to a value-based system. 

Biographical Information

An accomplished healthcare executive with broad leadership experience, James Parker has spent his career working to provide Americans with quality, affordable health insurance. He most recently served as Chief Executive Officer of MDwise, Inc., an Indiana Medicaid managed care organization with over 300,000 members and $1.4 billion in revenue. He also led the development of a provider-sponsored health plan and population health management capabilities within Indiana University Health, an Indianapolis-based integrated health system and served as co-chair of the Indiana University Health Population Health Management Services Organization. Mr. Parker previously spent 20 years with Anthem, Inc. in a number of senior leadership roles advancing initiatives to improve the quality and affordability of health insurance.




Readout of Deputy Secretary Hargan's Patient Advocacy Group Meeting

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 19:45

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan held a meeting with attendees from patient advocacy groups. The attendees expressed their individual opinions and as a group exchanged information pertaining to the Department's priorities. The meeting included representatives and patients from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, JDRF, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Health Council. Deputy Secretary Hargan was joined by two senior advisors Dan Best, HHS’s Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform, and Dr. Brett Giroir, HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Mental Health and Opioid Policy.

The gathering was part of Secretary Alex Azar’s efforts to ensure patients and their representatives have their voices heard as HHS implements President Trump’s important reforms to improve healthcare for all Americans.

Participants shared their perspectives on achieving HHS’s priorities: lowering the high price of prescription drugs, making health insurance and more accessible and affordable, creating a value-based healthcare system, and combating the opioid crisis.

Deputy Secretary Hargan thanked the participants for their insights and emphasized President Trump’s personal commitment to taking bold action to make health insurance and prescription drugs more affordable. He emphasized that HHS will maintain engagement with patient groups as the Department works to create a better healthcare system for every American.

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Update from the Department of Health and Human Services

Monday, April 16, 2018 - 14:45

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the following statement:

Earlier today, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex M. Azar II, was discharged from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana after he was admitted yesterday for treatment of a minor infection. The Secretary has been fully functional during his brief period of observation and has been in regular contact with HHS senior leadership. He will be back in the office tomorrow in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary and his family thank everyone for their concerns and well wishes. They are extremely grateful for the incredible doctors and nurses who provided him with excellent care during his one-night stay at St. Vincent’s.

This serves as an update following yesterday’s statement which can be read at https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2018/04/15/update-from-hhs.html.




Update from the Department of Health and Human Services

Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 21:15

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the following statement:

Earlier this evening the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex M. Azar II, was treated with intravenous antibiotics for a minor infection. Out of an abundance of caution he has been admitted to a hospital for observation.




HHS sponsors its largest exercise for moving patients with highly infectious diseases

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 09:00

The largest patient movement exercise in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ history began today to test the nationwide ability to move patients with highly infectious diseases safely and securely to regional treatment centers. “Saving lives during crises requires preparation and training,” explained HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, M.D. “A tremendous amount of coordination, synchronization, and skill is needed to move patients with highly infectious diseases safely. We have to protect the patients and the healthcare workers caring for those patients. This type of exercise helps ensure that everyone involved is ready for that level of complexity.”  Coordinated by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, more than 50 organizations will participate, including the Department of State, Department of Transportation, the Regional Ebola Treatment Centers, local and state health and emergency management agencies, hospitals, airport authorities, and non-government organizations. Throughout the exercise, participants react as if the incident is real. They must take the necessary actions and employ the appropriate resources to manage and protect the patients, the workforce and the environment and safely transport the patients. The exercise focuses on moving seven people acting as patients with Ebola symptoms in different regions of the country. The patients, including one pediatric patient, first present themselves at one of the following healthcare facilities: CHI St. Luke's Health-The Woodlands Hospital in The Woodlands, Texas; Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina; Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma; St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. At each facility, healthcare workers will collect and ship samples for diagnostic tests to state laboratories, which in turn will practice running the necessary laboratory tests to diagnose the patients with Ebola. As part of the exercise, each patient will receive a positive diagnosis. Using appropriate isolation techniques and personal protective equipment, health care workers then must take steps to have six of the patients transported by air to designated Regional Ebola Treatment Centers. These patients will be placed into mobile biocontainment units for these flights. The pediatric patient will be placed into protective equipment and transported by ground ambulance. The treatment centers that will receive the patients are Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California; Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia; Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington; and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. The pediatric patient will be transported to Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus in Houston, Texas. The participating airports are Boise Airport in Boise, Idaho; Charleston International Airport in Charleston, South Carolina; DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, Georgia; Ellington Field Airport in Houston, Texas; Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California; Spokane International Airport in Spokane, Washington; and Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Upon arrival, local emergency responders will transfer the patients to ground ambulances for transportation from the airports to the treatment centers. HHS and the Department of State previously collaborated on exercises to move Americans acting as Ebola patients from West African countries to Ebola treatment centers in the United States. In public health emergencies or disasters, the U.S. government orchestrates the return of Americans to the United States, including Americans who are sick or injured. This exercise runs through April 12. Participants will gather on April 13 to assess the exercise, compare actions across the country, [...]



Secretary Azar Announces Appointments for the Department of Health and Human Services

Friday, April 6, 2018 - 17:00

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs –Judy Stecker began her tenure yesterday as the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Stecker came to the Department from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she served as Executive Director of Media Relations and Strategic Marketing. At AEI, she was responsible for developing strategic media and marketing plans, implementing and evaluating publicity tools, brand management and crisis communications. Prior to joining AEI, Stecker served as Senior Media Associate for Broadcast Services at the Heritage Foundation. Before that, she was Director of Communications for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Director of Communications for Vets for Freedom. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs – Jeff Rosenberg began his tenure last week as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Rosenberg has more than 30 years of providing high-level strategic communications guidance to government agencies and leading nonprofit organizations and foundations. Before joining the Department, he most recently served as an Executive Vice President at Crosby Marketing Communications, directing major integrated communications programs. Prior to this position, Rosenberg served as the President and Owner of Rosenberg Communications, his own firm, a full-service communications practice. Additionally, during President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, Mr. Rosenberg previously served at the Department as Director of Communications, Acting Associate Commissioner for Head Start, and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. Acting Assistant Secretary for Administration – HHS Deputy General Counsel Heather Flick has been named the acting Assistant Secretary for Administration – a role she will fill until a new Assistant Secretary for Administration is named. Flick started with the Department as part of the beachhead team as Deputy General Counsel, was promoted to Principal Deputy General Counsel; she served as Acting General Counsel until the General Counsel Robert Charrow was confirmed by the Senate. Before her service with the Department, Flick was of counsel with Dhillon Law Group in San Francisco and owner of The Flick Group practicing corporate law, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, licensing, employment law, IP protection and arbitration. Deputy Administrator and Director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) – Adam Boehler joins the Department next week in the role of Deputy Administrator and Director of CMMI. Boehler is the former CEO and founder of Landmark Health – a company focused on delivering medical services to the most chronically ill patients. Boehler is the founder of Avalon Health Solutions – a leading provider of laboratory benefit management services in the country. Boehler was a board member and founder of TrellisRx, a built-for-purpose company that partners with health systems to fund, build, and operate specialty pharmacies. Additionally, Boehler was an Operating Partner at Francisco Partners a leading global private equity firm focused on healthcare technology and services investing, including both the incubation of built-for-purpose companies and execution of transactions involving established, high-growth businesses. Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform – Dan Best began his tenure this week as the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform. A highly accomplished, healthcare industry executive, Best is an expert on both the pharmaceutical landscape and the Medicare Part D program. He recently served as the Corporate Vice President of Industry Relations for CVSHealth’s Medicare Part D business. Prior to working at CVS, Best spent 12 years at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. [...]



Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice Return $2.6 Billion in Taxpayer Savings from Efforts to Fight Healthcare Fraud

Friday, April 6, 2018 - 11:00

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Jeff Sessions today released a fiscal year (FY) 2017 Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program report showing that for every dollar the federal government spent on healthcare related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years, the government recovered $4. Additionally, the report shows that the departments’ FY 2017 Takedown event was the single largest healthcare fraud enforcement operation in history. In FY 2017, the government’s healthcare fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered $2.6 billion in taxpayer dollars from individuals and entities attempting to defraud the federal government and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Some of these fraudulent practices include: Providers operating “pill mills” out of their medical offices. Providers submitting false claims to Medicare for ambulance transportation services. Clinics submitting false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for physical and occupational therapy. Drug companies paying kickbacks to providers to prescribe their drugs, and pharmacies soliciting and receiving kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies for promoting their drugs. Companies misrepresenting capabilities of their electronic health record software to customers. “Today’s report highlights the success of HHS and DOJ’s joint fraud-fighting efforts,” said HHS Secretary Azar. “By holding individuals and entities accountable for defrauding our federal health programs, we are protecting the programs’ beneficiaries, safeguarding billions in taxpayer dollars, and, in the case of pill mills, helping stem the tide of our nation’s opioid epidemic.” “Taxpayers work hard every day to help fund government programs for our fellow Americans,” Attorney General Sessions said. “But too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this generosity to line their pockets, sometimes for millions of dollars.  At the Department of Justice, we have taken historic new actions to incarcerate these criminals and recover stolen funds, including executing the largest healthcare fraud enforcement action in American history.  These achievements are important, but the department's work is not finished. We will keep up this pace and continue to prosecute fraudsters so that we can give financial relief to taxpayers.” The departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) effort, use data analytics and surveillance to crack down on, prevent and prosecute healthcare fraud. While the program continues to be very successful, the return on investment fluctuates from year to year, in part because cases resulting in large settlements take multiple years to complete. Additionally, there has been a reduction in large monetary settlements as many of the large pharmaceutical manufacturers have entered into Corporate Integrity Agreements with the HHS Office of the Inspector General to establish protections against fraudulent activities. With teams comprised of law enforcement agents, prosecutors, attorneys, auditors, evaluators and other staff, last year DOJ opened 967 new criminal healthcare fraud investigations of which federal prosecutors filed criminal charges in 439 cases involving 720 defendants.  A total of 639 defendants were convicted of healthcare fraud related crimes. In FY 2017, the DOJ and HHS joint Medicare Fraud Strike Force filed 253 indictments and charges against 478 defendants who allegedly billed federal healthcare programs more than $2.3 billion. The Strike Force obtained more than 290 guilty pleas, litigated 33 jury trials and won guilty verdicts against 40 defendants. The Fraud Strike Force secured prison sentences for more than 300 defendants, with an[...]



Surgeon General Releases Advisory on Naloxone, an Opioid Overdose-Reversing Drug

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 15:15

Today, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, M.D., M.P.H., urged more Americans to carry a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The medication, naloxone, is already carried by many first responders, such as EMTs and police officers. The Surgeon General is now recommending that more individuals, including family, friends and those who are personally at risk for an opioid overdose, also keep the drug on hand. An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. struggle with an opioid use disorder. Rates of opioid overdose deaths are rapidly increasing. Since 2010, the number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled from more than 21,000 to more than 42,000 in 2016, with the sharpest increase occurring among deaths related to illicitly made fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids). Opioids are a class of drugs that include medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, which are commonly prescribed to treat pain. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is approved for treating severe pain, typically post-surgical or advanced cancer pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related harms are a result of illicitly made fentanyl. “Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose – that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” said Surgeon General Adams. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.” Naloxone, an FDA-approved medication that can be delivered via nasal mist or injection, is not a long-term solution, but it can temporarily suspend the effects of the overdose until emergency responders arrive. “To manage opioid addiction and prevent future overdoses, increased naloxone availability must occur in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder,” the Surgeon General said. All states have passed laws to increase access to naloxone and, in most states, you can walk into a pharmacy and request naloxone even if you don’t already have a prescription. In addition, most states have laws designed to protect health care professionals for prescribing and dispensing naloxone from civil and criminal liabilities as well as Good Samaritan laws to protect people who administer naloxone or call for help during an opioid overdose emergency. Naloxone is covered by most insurance plans and, for those without coverage, may be available at low or no cost through local public health programs or through retailer and manufacturer discounts. It is easy to use, safe to administer and widely available. Today’s Surgeon General advisory on naloxone is part of the administration’s ongoing effort to respond to the sharp increase among drug overdose deaths. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data showing a rise in emergency department visits for opioid overdoses. From July 2016 through September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30 percent in all parts of the U.S. Expanding the use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is a key part of the public health response to the opioid crisis, along with effective prevention, treatment and recovery programs for opioid use disorder. Research shows a combination of medication, counseling and behavioral therapy, also known as Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, can help people achieve long-term recovery. For more information on how to get help, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go to https://www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov to find a treatment center. To learn more about how individuals can recognize and respond to an opioid overdose, visit www.surgeongeneral.gov to read more. [...]



HHS Releases a New Resource to Help Individuals Access and Use Their Health Information

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - 15:00

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released the ONC Guide to Getting and Using your Health Records, a new online resource for individuals, patients, and caregivers.  This new resource supports both the 21st Century Cures Act goal of empowering patients and improving patients’ access to their electronic health information and the recently announced MyHealthEData initiative. The new initiative, led by the White House Office of American Innovation and supported by ONC, empowers patients by giving them control of their healthcare information.  Other participants in the effort include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. “It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “This guide will help answer some of the questions that patients may have when asking for their health information.” Individuals’ ability to access and use their health information electronically is a measure of interoperability and a cornerstone of ONC’s efforts to increase patient engagement, improve health outcomes, and advance person-centered health. In fact, a new ONC data brief shows that in 2017, half of Americans reported they were offered access to an online medical record by a provider or insurer. This is up from 42 percent in 2014. Over half of individuals who were offered online access viewed their record with the past year.  Eight in 10 of the individuals who viewed their information rated their online medical records as both easy to understand and useful for monitoring their health. These positive perceptions may be attributed to individuals’ varied use of online medical records, including viewing test results; managing their health needs with greater convenience; communicating with their health care provider; self-management and treatment decision-making; and contributing information to and correcting errors in their medical record. However, challenges remain.  Almost half of Americans in 2017 who were offered access to an online medical record did not access their record, frequently citing a perceived lack of need as one of the reasons for not accessing their record. Consumers may not understand their right (under the HIPAA Privacy Rule) to access their health information nor realize the benefits of accessing their health information. ONC outlined the challenges patients face in accessing their health information electronically in a report released in June 2017. “The ONC Guide to Getting and Using your Health Records” informs patients and consumers about the value of health information, and provides individuals with clear, actionable advice on how to: Get their health record, including offering tips through the process of accessing their records electronically,  Check their health record to make sure it is complete, correct, and up-to-date, and Use their electronic health records, such as sharing their records to better coordinate their care and using apps and other digital technologies to better manage and improve their health. To view the ONC Guide to Getting, Checking, and Using your Health Records, visit: HealthIT.gov. Additional information on individuals’ right to access their health information under the HIPAA Privacy Rule is available at: https://www.hhs.gov/getitcheckituseit [...]