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Former Lilly exec confirmed as HHS secretary

BY David Salazar

Alex Azar is the nation’s latest Secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, who served as president of Eli Lilly from 2012 to January 2017, was confirmed by the Senate with a 55-to-43 vote.

Alex Azar

Azar is the second HHS secretary in the year-old Trump administration, succeeding Tom Price, who resigned from the position at the end of September.

At his confirmation hearing, Azar said that his focus at the helm of HHS would be on four areas — drug prices, the affordability of healthcare and rising premiums, an outcomes-based focus for Medicare and addressing the opioid epidemic.

“Through my experience helping to implement Part D and with my extensive knowledge of how insurance, manufacturers, pharmacy, and government programs work together, I believe I bring skills and experiences to the table that can help us address these issues, while still encouraging discovery so Americans have access to high-quality care,” Azar said at his confirmation hearing in November.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia., said that he met with Azar to discuss government transparency and prudent use of taxpayer money as the head the agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, and ultimately decided he was the best man for the job.

“During our meeting, he assured me that encouraging competition in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and stemming the tide of rising drug prices would be among his top priorities,” Grassley said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that Azar is uniquely qualified for the position.

“It is vital that this department be headed by a leader with Mr. Azar’s extensive qualifications and excellent reputation. He will be responsible for overseeing $1.13 trillion in department spending, supervising critical research, and administering — and reforming — programs that touch millions of Americans’ lives, such as Medicare and Medicaid. I look forward to voting soon in support of his confirmation.”

Grassley, McConnell and the Republican caucus largely carried Azar’s confirmation, with only six Democrats voting to confirm. Several members of the Democratic caucus raised questions about his commitment to lowering drug prices and improve health care given the Administration’s and Congress’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Let me start by saying that Mr. Azar doesn’t come with the staggering ethical challenges of the first Trump HHS nominee, Tom Price. And by the strict definition, Mr. Azar is qualified for this position,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said before voting against Azar’s confirmation. “But here’s my view: Mr. Azar’s nomination is a perfect encapsulation of the president’s broken promises on prescription drugs and health care overall.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren lodged her concerns, expressing skepticism about the future of accessible healthcare.

“Republicans want to pretend that Alex Azar is totally different from Tom Price because Tom Price was a terrible HHS Secretary who didn’t put the American people first. But I don’t see the difference,” Warren said. “He will support efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, gut efforts to enroll people in health insurance, [and] take away Medicaid from people who need it the most.”

The biopharma industry has welcomed Azar’s confirmation, with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization offering its congratulations. BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood said his organization looks forward to working with Azar and highlighted the areas that HHS could help the United States health care system.

“The opportunities facing HHS today are enormous,” Greenwood sai. “From encouraging the development of new technologies to help solve the opioid crisis and removing barriers to value-based payment models, to overseeing the [Food and Drug Administration] and [National Institutes of Helath] as they implement landmark new legislation to speed the science and development of new cures and promote greater competition and choice in the marketplace, the decisions made at HHS today will leave a lasting imprint on American health care for decades to come.”

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Author, consultant Collins to speak at NACDS Annual

BY David Salazar

Attendees of this year’s National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting will get to hear from bestselling author and business consultant Jim Collins, the Arlington, Va.-based trade group announced Thursday.

Collins has written or co-authored six books that sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, including his bestseller Good to Great, which examines how good companies become great companies.

“We are thrilled that Jim Collins will be speaking once again at our Annual Meeting. Jim first participated in the NACDS Annual Meeting in 1996, and has since spoken at several of our other events, including the inaugural NACDS Total Store Expo in 2013,” NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson said. “Jim’s ability to analyze all aspects of business successes and challenges—especially in these rapidly changing times—will be an invaluable asset for NACDS members as they continue to anticipate the future and position themselves proactively. Jim is a master of examining solutions in unpredictable times and brings a great deal of knowledge to the table.”

Collins will address the second Business Program at NACDS Annual, which is set to take place April 21-24 at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. The event will be kicked off with a performance by Huey Lewis and the News.

More information about NACDS Annual can be found here.

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Omron launches wireless TENS device

BY Michael Johnsen

Omron Healthcare earlier this week announced the arrival of Avail, an innovative over-the-counter medical device for drug-free pain relief. Avail is Omron’s first TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit with wireless and dual channel capability that provides relief from chronic and acute pain. The device can treat multiple pain sites simultaneously and is controlled by Omron’s new mobile app, Omron TENS, enabling users to operate Avail remotely.

“Pain sufferers are already inconvenienced by their condition. Omron created Avail with wireless capability to restore their freedom of movement while they get pain relief,” stated Carol Lucarelli, director marketing and product development for Omron Healthcare. “And with two separately programmable TENS devices, the Omron Avail allows for customizable, multi-site treatment for individual aches and pains.”

[quote-from-article] The Omron Avail comes with two soft, contoured pads that fit comfortably and securely to treat a variety of areas of pain simultaneously. Avail’s five pre-programmed Body Pain Modes soothe lower back, shoulder, knee, elbow and leg pain with recommended therapies. Avail users can also design their own therapies using five additional pulsation modes – including steady, acupuncture-like, knead, tap and microcurrent – and 20 different intensity levels.

Bluetooth connectivity on Avail provides wireless control of settings via the Omron TENS app, for on-the-go personal control of pain relief. Omron TENS for smartphones is available for free download on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The Omron Avail is designed to provide symptomatic relief and management of chronic and acute pain, relief from pain associated with arthritis or with sore or aching muscles of the lower back, arms, legs, shoulders or feet due to strain from exercise or normal household work activities.

The device, which has received FDA clearance, is available for purchase at Omronhealthcare.com for $199.99.

Amid rising awareness and concern about opioid addiction, a problem for an estimated two million Americans, pain sufferers are seeking drug-free alternatives for relief. The Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic Annual Study of Americans (conducted in February and March 2017) revealed that 78% of Americans now prefer to try other ways to address their physical pain before taking prescription medications.

“Millions of Americans experience pain on a daily basis, and Omron is investing in TENS device innovation to bring them more options for safe, effective pain management,” said Lucarelli.  “Avail is our new offering to bring accessible, convenient, portable drug-free pain relief to those who need it.”

A therapy regularly administered by physical therapists and chiropractors, TENS sends stimulating pulses across the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands. The pulses help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Electrical stimulation can also trigger the body to release endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, and improve blood circulation. Omron was the first company to market with an over-the-counter FDA-cleared TENS medical device for use at home.

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