WASHINGTON Doesn’t anybody here pay their taxes? Tom Daschle, the former powerful leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, was one of President Barack Obama’s earliest Cabinet selections and his top choice to run both the huge federal healthcare bureaucracy and a new, White House office spearheading the planned overhaul of the healthcare system. But in an embarrassing and unexpected turn for the new president, he was also one of a series of nominees for high-level administration jobs who withdrew from Senate consideration after failing to pay part of his income tax liabilities.
With Daschle’s withdrawal, President Obama has lost his point man on health care reform.
It was clear that the President and his pick for secretary of Health & Human Services and health-reform czar saw eye to eye on the need for big changes in the U.S. health system. To wit:
· Both men see the current system as a critical failure in terms of its ability to respond in a cost-effective way to the growing health needs of Americans. Both see the problem of 46 million Americans with no health coverage as a looming crisis that could rupture the public-health safety net provided by Medicaid, Medicare, charitable organizations and other entities – and set back any recovery in the economy.
· Both Pres. Obama and Daschle want to lower, significantly, the cost of medicines through the increasing use of generics, the creation of an approval pathway for follow-on biologics, direct federal purchasing of drugs for the Medicare Part D drug benefit program and increased monitoring of therapeutic outcomes.
· Both men favor more government involvement in health care, via a watchdog agency or office set up to monitor costs, the effectiveness of various drug and treatment options, etc.
· Both leaders see direct importation of drugs from Canada as a viable tool in the federal effort to lower drug and health care expenses.
With Daschle’s abrupt exit from the national stage, it’s unclear whom the White House will turn to as its new champion of health reform efforts. Jeanne Lambrew, who has been tapped for the new post of deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform, is a physician and health policy expert but is little known outside policymaking circles. The President’s choice for deputy secretary of HHS, William Corr, is a health policy veteran of Capitol Hill who served in the Clinton White House and helped draft the landmark Hatch/Waxman compromise bill that gave rise to the modern generic drug industry, but, like Lambrew, lacks the household name recognition that the White House may feel is needed to push through big changes.
Whoever gets the nod as HHS secretary and health reform czar will likely emerge soon. Faced with an economic crisis and an anxious nation looking for leadership, the new president is sure to move quickly on many fronts.