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Industry groups praise choice of Daschle as HHS secretary and health-reform czar


WASHINGTON In a reaction that mingled political savvy with hopefulness about the future direction of health-reform efforts, pharmacy and healthcare industry groups were unanimous in their praise of President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as the nation’s top healthcare official.

Daschle, who lost his seat in Congress in 2004, will serve as both secretary of Health & Human Services and head of a new White House Office of Health Reform, the President-elect announced yesterday. As such, he will lead a determined charge by the Obama Administration to reshape, perhaps fundamentally, the nation’s overwrought healthcare system—and to sell that vision to a Congress preoccupied with the global economic meltdown, the threat of terrorism and other issues.

The former Democratic senator from South Dakota “will be responsible not just for implementing our healthcare plan. He will also be the lead architect of that plan,” Obama told reporters yesterday.

Daschle, 61, is no stranger to health-reform efforts. He recently published a book detailing his proposals to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, co-authored by Jeanne Lambrew, who will serve as deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform. As HHS secretary, Daschle will oversee a massive federal health infrastructure that includes the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.

Reaction to Daschle’s appointment was rapid and widespread, reflecting perhaps a desire among health industry groups to curry favor with the incoming administration, as well as a genuine expression of hope for change to a system plagued by unsustainable costs, inefficiency, antiquated information-sharing and lack of patient oversight.

Among those who endorsed Daschle’s selection yesterday was Steven Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “NACDS applauds the nomination of former Senator Tom Daschle,” Anderson noted. “As an association representing retail pharmacies [that] are healthcare providers and also employers, we look forward to working with the Administration on healthcare reform to make it a reality.

“President-elect Obama referred to Mr. Daschle today as the ‘architect’ of reforming the healthcare system,” added NACDS’ top executive. “In these economically challenging times, his healthcare policy expertise will be valuable in the effort to reform healthcare to curb costs and help ensure affordable, quality and accessible healthcare for Americans.”

John Gray, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, called Daschle “a strong choice to lead HHS and to coordinate efforts within the Administration as we enter a new era of healthcare reform.

“Our member companies, the nation’s primary healthcare distributors, are committed to developing healthcare policies that improve the safety, affordability and accessibility of patient-focused healthcare,” Gray added. “Health care is one of the top priorities on our nation’s agenda, and more than ever we will need to work together—across business and government—to develop practical solutions to enhance the U.S. healthcare system.”

Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, praised the incoming health reform czar for his “unparalleled experience in understanding how Washington works coupled with a true dedication to creating a dialogue with the American people on how to build a healthier nation.

“Senator Daschle's longstanding commitment to improving access to quality, affordable health care makes him an outstanding choice to lead our nation's effort to enact effective healthcare reform,” said Jaeger. “He has already hit the ground running by reaching out to the healthcare community and concerned citizens to ensure that we move in the right direction,” she added. “There is no doubt that tackling escalating healthcare costs has reached crisis proportions as our economy spirals downward.”

The health insurance and pharmacy benefit management industries also weighed in. “The American people will welcome the nomination of Senator Tom Daschle because it signals that the incoming administration intends to prioritize comprehensive healthcare reform,” noted Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “Senator Daschle is exceptionally well qualified to bring people together in support of universal coverage, cost-containment, and improved quality.”

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, for its part, called the new HHS secretary “a recognized leader and the right choice to drive President-elect Obama’s mission to reform health care in this country.

“An immediate priority outlined by the President-elect is to modernize health care and reduce costs by implementing the increased use of electronic health records. PCMA looks forward to working with Secretary-designate Daschle and the new Administration on accelerating adoption of waste-cutting EHRs and other health information technologies such as electronic prescribing that improve quality, efficiency and save money,” added the group in a statement.

Also citing the need for change was Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents more than 300 large employers. “A consensus is emerging that the status quo is intolerable and unconscionable,” she said yesterday. “We strongly applaud the appointments of…Daschle and Dr. Jeanne Lambrew. 

“Senator Daschle’s appointment will vastly improve the chances for enacting sustainable health reforms that will help transform the system,” added Darling. “Dr. Lambrew blends nationally recognized policy expertise with a real-world understanding of the challenges facing the healthcare system and will play a pivotal role in making reform a reality.”

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