Obama, Daschle Seek Big-Government Health Care Overhaul

Published February 1, 2009

In public appearances since being selected by President-elect Barack Obama to head up the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle has reiterated his and Obama’s commitment to overhauling the U.S. health care system to give the federal government a stronger regulatory and decision-making role.

Daschle, a former Democratic U.S. Senator from South Dakota and Senate Majority Leader in the early 2000s, has served as a distinguished fellow with the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, since being ousted from the Senate in 2004 by Republican John Thune. Daschle wrote a book on health care reform (Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, Thomas Dunne Books), released in February 2008.

“The president-elect made health care reform one of his top priorities of his campaign, and I am here to tell you that his commitment to changing the health care system remains strong and focused,” said Daschle in a December 5 address at the 2008 Colorado Health Care Summit, hosted by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO).

‘Pushing for National Health Care’

Many experts say Daschle’s selection is a signal the Obama administration is serious about increasing federal government control of the health care system.

“This is a sign that President Obama is serious about pushing for national health care,” said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. “If proponents of a market-based solution to the health care crisis hoped they could avoid this fight, they were wrong—and if they don’t get ready quickly, they will lose it.”

“Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of HHS signals a plan to resurrect big-government health care,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care. “Daschle has publicly called for the federal government to direct the practice of medicine, putting all private medical decisions under federal control.”

FedHealth Proposal Controversial

Daschle has said he hopes to implement a Federal Health Board, called FedHealth, loosely modeled after Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Evidence, a decision-making body that has been under fire in recent months for refusing to allow coverage of some life-extending drugs under the National Health System.

Stuart Butler, vice president for domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, said Daschle “wants a Board that really doesn’t have to listen to Americans, and will have the power to determine what health care we get and what we will be denied.”

Butler, a 30-year resident of Great Britain, warned against adopting the British model, where “regulating access to treatments based on the decisions of faceless health bureaucrats is the norm.”

“The Daschle Board might be better described as the Supreme Court of Health,” Butler added, “and, given the powers he imagines for it, selections to it will be about as free from politics as nominations for a Supreme Court justice.”

“Who would be appointed to this board?”asked James Gelfand, senior manager of health policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Let’s be realistic—is it going to be the brilliant health care minds we hope, or is it more likely to be a bunch of retired Senators, representatives from interest groups with little policy depth, and academics with no real-world health care experience? Should we be comfortable with a group of that nature making these decisions with no legislative debate?”

States Concerned Too

Some state legislators have expressed concern about the signal the Daschle pick sends about the future of state health care.

“Candidate Obama used broad generalities to describe how his health care plan would preserve private insurance and allow us to choose our own doctors,” said Wisconsin state Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa). “In reality, though, Obama and Daschle are about to create the Fannie Mae of health care. They are about to give us rationed health care we can’t believe in.”

“While Tom Daschle has a long history of interest in health care, his likely approach is worrisome,” said Iowa state Rep. Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner). “This country can ill-afford a massive SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program] increase right now, and expanding entitlements is not the answer.

“Further,” added Upmeyer, “his desire for a National Health System that moves health care decisions further away from patients and providers, creates more bureaucracy, and models itself after a failed system does not seem like positive health care reform.”

Some Optimism

Some experts, recalling Daschle’s promotion of consumer-driven health care elements in the Senate, preferred to view the incoming Health and Human Services secretary with guarded optimism.

“Tom Daschle was one of the first sponsors of Medical Savings Account legislation when they were introduced in the early 1990s,” said Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute. “His views have likely changed since then, but I am hoping we can work with him to increase consumer choice in health care.”

Jeff Emanuel ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.

For more information …

Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, by Tom Daschle, February 2008: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312383010?ie=UTF8&tag=theheartlandinst&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0312383010