Healthcare: Obama presses ahead
Its reform is integral to reviving the economy, he signals, with his pick of Daschle as point man.
President-elect Obama’s announcement that Thomas Daschle will be his point man on healthcare reform signals that the issue remains at the top of the agenda, despite the economic meltdown and the mounting deficit.Skip to next paragraph
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Throughout the campaign, candidate Obama repeatedly called reform of the US healthcare system a high priority. As the economy began to unravel, however, the steep cost of reform – estimated at between $50 billion and $65 billion a year – prompted many pundits and policymakers to predict that it would have to be put on a back burner.
But in designating the former South Dakota senator to head the Health and Human Services Department, as well as the overall effort to reform healthcare, Mr. Obama made it clear he sees the reform as integral to his efforts to resuscitate the economy.
“The news is that healthcare is still on the agenda, and nobody really expected it to be,” says Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leading healthcare-research nonprofit organization, whose headquarters are in Menlo Park, Calif. “It has been redefined really from a healthcare issue [alone] to a piece of the larger economic issue.”
Mr. Daschle has spent the past few weeks reaching out to major healthcare players, organizing nationwide community discussions on reforms, and working with leaders in Congress. They’ve signaled they’d like to have a healthcare bill ready for debate as early as January.
“The time is now to solve this problem. I met too many families during the course of the campaign before the economic downturn that are desperate,” Obama said Thursday. “This has to be intimately woven into our overall economic recovery plan: It’s not something that we can put off because we’re in an emergency. This is part of the emergency, and we have to make sure our strategy reflects that.”
The announcement about Daschle was not unexpected. Many in the healthcare community have praised his extensive understanding of the sector’s complexities, as well as his political expertise. But some conservatives have criticized the appointment, saying it signals that the next administration favors too much government involvement in the healthcare industry.