Senate set to OK Daschle as health secretary

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pledged to restore confidence in federal agencies and base decisions on science, not politics, as he began making his case to the U.S. Senate on Thursday to become President-elect Barack Obama’s health secretary.

Obama has charged Daschle with a new, expanded role: to transform the U.S. health care system, which spends more per capita than any other developed nation but leaves many people without a way to pay for care.

Daschle criticized agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and said he would focus on keeping people well instead of spending money to treat them for preventable illnesses.

“Unfortunately, there is growing concern that the FDA may have lost the confidence of the public and Congress — much to our detriment,” Daschle said in written testimony submitted to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before Thursday’s hearing.

The FDA has been battered by criticism that it did too little to prevent and then investigate outbreaks of foodborne disease such as a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,400 people from April to August of 2007.

It has also lost confidence after several high-profile drug recalls, including that of Merck & Co’s arthritis drug, Vioxx, in 2004 when it was found to raise heart risks.

“As secretary I will work to ensure that trust in FDA is restored as the leading science-based regulator agency in the world,” Daschle said.

“And I will send a clear message from the top that the president and I expect key decisions at the FDA to be made on the basis of science — period.”


The administration of President George W. Bush has been repeatedly accused of putting ideology before science, notably in regulating areas such as stem cells, birth control and abortion.

Daschle said this slant has affected the National Institutes of Health as well. “It has also suffered from some instances of people putting politics before science,” he said.

He said the NIH had been “flat-funded,” meaning funding has not kept pace with inflation. He said this had translated into a 17 percent decrease in “buying power” since 2003.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, can help lead reform by giving doctors and hospitals incentives to provide high-quality care, Daschle said.

CMS, whose federal-state health insurance plans for children, the poor and elderly cover 110 million people, is influential in setting policy for private insurers.

“For example, we can support medical homes and other approaches to improve care and reduce costs for patients with chronic conditions,” Daschle said. A medical home means having a central coordinator for all of a patient’s heath services.  Continued…


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