Undaunted by the economy, Obama presses ahead on healthcare reform
His introduction of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) for secretary of health and human services marks an attempt to press for reforms even amid the economic crisis.
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The nomination Monday of Governor Sebelius for the Health and Human Services job helps Obama move beyond the withdrawal of his first choice, former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Mr. Daschle, one of Obama’s closest confidants during the campaign, dropped out a month ago when it came out that he owed $128,000 in back taxes. The withdrawal deprived Obama of a key player in his health reform effort, especially given Daschle’s background as onetime Senate majority leader.Skip to next paragraph
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As a two-term Democratic governor in a Republican state, Sebelius brings her ability to work across the aisle. In addition, Sebelius was Kansas’s insurance commissioner for eight years. Her knowledge of how the healthcare system works at the state level, which is critical to any federal reform, would also help her in Washington. Some conservatives pledged to drum up opposition over her support of abortion rights despite her Catholic faith, but she is expected to be confirmed.
Sebelius is not expected, however, to be appointed White House “health czar,” a second hat Daschle was to wear. Instead, Obama has named Nancy-Ann DeParle to serve as counselor to the president and director of the White House Office for Health Reform. The White House describes her as “one of the nation’s leading experts on healthcare and regulatory issues.” But she will not play the high-profile role that Daschle would have, or that Mr. Orszag, the budget director, already is playing on healthcare.
“Healthcare is the key to our fiscal future,” Orszag said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “We are going to make sure that it is ... self-financing over the next 5 to 10 years, which means if that revenue stream isn’t available, something else will have to be. And in addition, those reforms to healthcare, making the system more efficient, will help ... vastly improve our long-term fiscal future.”
Not all budget watchdogs believe it is possible to reform the healthcare system and bring down its runaway costs at the same time. David Walker, the former comptroller general of the United States, believes Obama should focus on cost-cutting first, then reform.
“Before we expand coverage, which we know is going to cost a lot of money, we need to be able to demonstrate – not based on theory, but based upon actual practice – that we can reduce the rate of increase of healthcare costs,” says Mr. Walker, now president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “And we need to make a significant down payment on our tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded healthcare obligations right now.”
He adds: “It’s all too easy to expand coverage and say we’re paying for it based on some theoretical savings that we hope we will end up achieving through various reforms.”