U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II speaks at Nashville Health Care Council event hosted at Lipscomb University

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II encounters Nashville Health Care Council members all over the world, he said in a speech delivered Thursday at Lipscomb University.

“There is a reason that Nashville health care leaders have kept popping up throughout my career,” he said. “It’s because Nashville has become a thriving hub for health care innovation.”

Before his speech, Azar met with Governor Bill Haslam and a group of local health care leaders for an open discussion about health care policy priorities and issues that are top-of-mind for the health care industry. Topics addressed included the industry’s transition to value-based care and the opioid epidemic. The problem of “surprise” hospital bills – meaning fees that patients later discover are out-of-network or unexpectedly high – was brought up as a tough issue that needs to be solved. Azar asked for leaders in Nashville to share ideas that could help the administration work toward a solution.

Nashville leaders are proud of the city’s entrepreneurial spirit, said HCA CEO and Nashville Health Care Council Chairman R. Milton Johnson, who spoke at the event.

The health care community in Nashville serves as a model for the rest of the country, Azar said. “So much of what is great about American health care is in evidence here in Nashville: the zeal for innovation, the respect for patient choice, and the harnessing of market forces to improve care.”

One of the foundational characteristics of the city’s health care industry is the willingness of leaders to work together, said Nashville Health Care Council CEO Hayley Hovious.  “This is a uniquely collaborative community,” she said, after Azar’s speech. “More than ever, Nashville health care needs to lead the country by coming together to solve the challenges that we heard about today from Secretary Azar.”