Philo D. Hall, Senior Counsel in the firm’s Health Care & Life Sciences practice, in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, was quoted in Law360, in “HHS Report Card: Attys Grade Health Secretary’s 1st Year,” by Jeff Overley. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

After 365 days atop the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar is getting grades that range from satisfactory to sterling, with health care attorneys crediting the HHS secretary for battling high drug prices despite his Big Pharma background.

Azar, a former Eli Lilly & Co. executive who early in his career worked at a Wiley Rein LLP predecessor and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, took the reins at HHS on Jan. 29, 2018. Since then, he has helped to chart the Trump administration’s course on drug prices, the opioid crisis, health insurance and rewarding doctors and hospitals for high-quality care.

So far, Azar has avoided the ethical lapses of his predecessor, Tom Price, who was forced out in 2017 after racking up $400,000 in taxpayer-funded travel on private jets. But clearing that low bar for rectitude only goes so far; Azar has upset some observers with actions that appear likely to damage the Affordable Care Act and policies on immigrant detentions.

Here, legal and lobbying pros score the HHS boss’ first year. …

Hall, senior counsel in D.C. at Epstein Becker, told Law360 that the health secretary deserves top marks for his freshman performance.

“Alex Azar has succeeded in the primary tasks for any HHS secretary’s first year: outline a robust policy agenda, minimize distractions and maintain White House confidence,” Hall said.

Hall worked at HHS during the George W. Bush administration, when Azar served as HHS general counsel and a deputy HHS secretary. Hall said he never reported directly to Azar but did interact with him at times.

During his inaugural year as HHS secretary, Azar has deftly steered clear of unnecessary controversies, Hall said.

“HHS and its agencies will always be among the most politically contentious in government, but he has instituted a culture demanding that those agencies [operate] competently and make news only on the substance of policy,” Hall said.

The year ahead heralds new challenges, Hall added, noting that the administration will need to turn its drug pricing ideas into realities and that congressional Democrats will be licking their chops to investigate HHS. Probes could target the department’s actions on the ACA, abortion rights and birth control, among other things.

“In 2019, he will be judged on how much of his drug price agenda can be implemented and whether HHS can maintain operational momentum when subject to time-consuming oversight hearings in the House of Representatives,” Hall said.

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