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Senator Hassan Presses HHS Secretary Nominee Alex Azar on Need for Additional Funding to Combat the Opioid Crisis


For video of the hearing click here.

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan participated today in a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on the nomination of former pharmaceutical company executive Alex Azar to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Senator Hassan pressed Azar on the need for more federal opioid funding for the hardest hit states like New Hampshire, and raised concerns about his commitment to lowering skyrocketing prescription drug prices given his close ties to pharmaceutical companies.

Senator Hassan noted that the Trump Administration has refused to request supplemental funding to fight this crisis, and asked Mr. Azar if he will commit to advocating for at least $45 billion in new supplemental funding to fight this crisis – a number that has had bipartisan support. Azar said, “what I will commit to you is if I am confirmed, I am going to work across the government to assess, ‘do we have the resources we need?’ And if I do not believe we have the resources we need to address the problem, work with the President and the Congress to do that.” To which Senator Hassan pressed further, “I don’t know a governor of either political party who believes we have the resources we need; I don’t know anybody on the front lines of this crisis who thinks we have the resources we need.”

The Senator also highlighted that while the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid crisis has hit New Hampshire particularly hard, the Department of Health and Human Services used a flawed funding formula to allocate resources from the 21st Century Cures Act and overlooked the Granite State’s acute need for robust federal funding. Azar said, “absolutely I know your concern about the money going to New Hampshire, and I certainly, if I'm confirmed, will work with you to look at that and see what flexibilities there are.”

Additionally, the Senator pushed Azar on his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry and on his reported comments suggesting that pharmaceutical companies are not to blame for the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs, as well as the case of the drug company Allergan, which has engaged in bad behavior to shield the patents of its dry eye drug, Restasis from review in order to prevent generic products from entering the market. She also highlighted the importance of Essential Health Benefits in ensuring that insurance companies cover substance use disorder treatment and pressed Azar on the case of Jane Doe, a 17-year old young woman who was temporarily forced to remain pregnant against her will for over a month while in HHS custody.