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INTERVIEW: Health and Human Services secretary discusses insurance plan options

Eyewitness News anchor Scott Swan interviewed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Tuesday.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Eyewitness News anchor Scott Swan interviewed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Tuesday. Azar is a former executive at Eli Lilly.

SWAN: Let's start with your plan to offer short-term insurance. What's that plan about and what's it meant to accomplish?

AZAR: "The Affordable Care Act is simply not delivering for people in this country. Back home in Indiana, individual market premiums increased 74 percent, almost doubling through the end of the Obama administration. No county in Indiana has more than two insurers. About half of our counties have just one. So, it's not working for folks, especially the 28 million Americans who are still uninsured even though they were promised they would get access to affordable health care insurance.

"The president, through an executive order, said he wants us to help people get affordable individualized insurance and so today, we're taking a step in the right direction."

Tuesday, the HHS is proposing short-term plans. Here is some background and here is how Azar described the plans.

AZAR: "These are plans that could last up to 12 months. They're lower cost because they're not subject to all the regulations at the national level of Obamacare. They can be as low as one-third the cost of Obamacare individual insurance plans that are unsubsidized. We think this can be an important option for people who've been crowded out of that marketplace. Just an option for them to get lower cost insurance coverage. Probably works best for people who have a transition in employment, so they're between jobs and between coverage in their employers. People for whom the Obamacare insurance is just too expensive. And people who live in rural areas where the Obamacare that's available to them may not cover doctors or hospitals that are close enough to where they live."

SWAN: Now it's not much of a leap to say with the Obamacare individual mandate struck down, this product could be preferable to younger, healthier people, thus lowering the Obamacare rolls even further. Is this another effort from the Trump Administration to force an Obamacare collapse?

AZAR: "The young and healthy have already left the Obamacare individual market. That is exactly why the premiums have increased so much and keep increasing because the basis structure under the statute of how this insurance was designed makes it so the young and the healthy do not want that insurance.

"6.7 million Americans paid $3 billion of individual market taxes to avoid the privilege of buying insurance they could not afford nor want."

SWAN: On reducing costs, one thing even President Trump has pointed to is lowering the cost of prescription drugs. While you were president of Lilly USA, the price of your diabetes drug went from $74 to $269 in just three years. It certainly wasn't just that drug and it certainly wasn't just Lilly where this happened.

How do you justify that and how can you in your current role fix that problem?

AZAR: "We're working agressively to tackle the issue of drug pricing. President Trump last year approved through the FDA more generic drugs than ever in history. He also came out with a regulation that reduces, for senior citizens, how much they pay for drugs that they're administered by their physician. So, the senior citizen pays 20 percent of the cost of those drugs. He pulled that down so that senior citizens are saving $3.2 billion out of pocket over 10 years. In the budget that we just rolled out last week, we have a suite of programs and changes that we have proposed to Congress that will reduce the cost of drugs, the out-of-pocket payments that senior citizens will make. And create downward pressure on those skyrocketing list prices for prescription drugs. We look forward to working with Congress to get those proposals enacted and we're continuing to work with more proposals that we'll move forward with on our own authority if we're able."