In a press briefing December 11, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama introduced former Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle as the next Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. President-Elect Obama stated, “The time has come—this year, in this new Administration—to modernize our health care system for the twenty-first century; to reduce costs for families and businesses; and to finally provide affordable, accessible health care for every American.”
The former South Dakota senator, who has been leading the Obama transition team on health policy, stated he is committed to improving the quality of the US health care system during the next administration. While observers believe the next administration must focus most of its attention on repairing the nation’s weakened economy, Mr. Daschle has made it clear that economic recovery is linked directly to reducing the cost of health care and improving its quality. Mr. Daschle intends to push for legislative action on health care reform in the first months of the administration.
A preview of Mr. Daschle’s ideas for health care reform can be found in his book, “Critical: What We Can Do about the Health-Care Crisis,” released in 2008. The book provides a diagnosis of major issues with the current health care system, a look at why past attempts to transform the system have failed, and a proposal for tackling health care reform in the future.
According to his book, Mr. Daschle’s proposal for health care reform includes increasing insurance coverage by expanding Medicare and Medicaid and adding a new program that would give all Americans the option to purchase the same insurance plans offered to federal employees. Mr. Daschle also supports a mandate for all Americans to purchase health insurance, something many Republicans support. However, President-Elect Obama has said it is not a necessary component of overhauling health care. To reduce costs, Mr. Daschle proposes creating a new federal health board, modeled on the Federal Reserve Board, with authority to regulate the entire health care sector.
Mr. Daschle is interested in keeping the process for changing the health care system open. A series of community discussions will be held across the country December 15-31 for the public to submit their ideas on how to improve health care in America. President-Elect Obama’s transition team is also accepting comments on health care policy through its website.
Former Senator Daschle served in the House from 1979 to 1987 before serving in the Senate for 18 years (1987-2005). During his time in the Senate, he served as both the minority and majority leader. Since his defeat in the 2004 senatorial race, Mr. Daschle has been a public policy advisor at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. The founder of the Center for American Progress, former Clinton White House chief of staff John D. Podesta, is the head of President-Elect Obama’s transition operation.