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US health chief picks palliative care entrepreneur to lead innovation center

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has named Brad Smith, the former head of a company that provided palliative care to dying Americans, as the new leader of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Smith co-founded Nashville-based Aspire Health with former Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee. Aspire was acquired by health insurance giant Anthem Inc. in 2018.

Smith is replacing Adam Boehler, who left CMMI in 2019 to take the reins of the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., a revamped version of the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

CMMI is part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It was created by the Affordable Care Act to design and test payment models and expand them into the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs.

HHS has invoked CMMI's authorities for a number of pilot programs and said it planned to use the agency to carry out its pending proposal to require drugmakers to offer the U.S. government the lowest prices paid by other developed nations for prescription medicines — plans that could be scrapped if the Trump administration is successful in invalidating the ACA in an ongoing lawsuit.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Smith's experience as a healthcare entrepreneur, as well as his background working in government, made him "exactly the right experience to lead a center charged with coming up with innovative ways to lower health care costs and improve quality."

Before going into business with Aspire, Smith had served in the economic development office for former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. He was also an aide to former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

In his new role, Smith will also become Azar's senior adviser for value-based transformation, the HHS secretary said in a Jan. 6 statement.

"Brad's experience thinking outside the box to improve healthcare as a successful entrepreneur, along with his stellar academic and policy background, have prepared him well to lead CMMI and bring innovative solutions to our healthcare system's most pressing challenges," CMS Administrator Seema Verma stated.