President-elect Barack Obama formally announced today his selection of former Sen. Tom Daschle to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
The former Senate majority leader will also lead a new White House office of health reform, Obama said today. He also announced that Jeanne Lambrew, a HHS official under President Bill Clinton who helped co-write a health care book with Daschle, has been tapped to be deputy director of that office.
Although the Daschle pick has been known for weeks, Obama called him "one of America's foremost health care experts" and "the original no-drama guy" while discussing the future of the health care system today in Chicago.
"Tom brings more than just great expertise to this task, he brings the respect he earned during his years of leadership in Congress," Obama said. "He knows how to reach across the aisle and bridge partisan divides. And he has the trust of folks from every angle of this issue: doctors, nurses and patients; unions and businesses; hospitals and advocacy groups -- all of whom will have a seat at the table as we craft our plan."
Since leaving the Senate in 2004, Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, has been working as a special policy advisor for the law and lobbying firm Alston and Bird. If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in guiding critical, high-profile federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the National Institutes of Health.
"It is hard to overstate the urgency of their work," the president-elect said. "Over the past eight years, premiums have nearly doubled -- and more families are facing more medical debt than ever before. Forty-five million of our fellow citizens have no health insurance at all and, day after day, we witness the disgrace of parents unable to take a sick child to the doctor, seniors unable to afford their medicines, people who wind up in the emergency room because they have nowhere else to turn."
In an effort to get input from Americans across the nation, the incoming administration has announced it plans to hold a series of health care discussions in homes and community centers starting next week. Daschle, who has already been leading the transition's health policy team, is planning to attend one of those discussions in person. The forums are one way to avoid the appearance of repeating Clinton's unsuccessful strategy of trying to redesign the health care system in secret.
Daschle's book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis," was published in February.
Health advocacy groups have been quick to applaud Daschle since learning of Obama's selection.
"Sen. Daschle's knowledge of both health care and Capitol Hill will be vital to prospects of enacting comprehensive health care reform," said Hala Moddelmog, president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance. "This is a critical time in our country and in the war on cancer. It is important that we work together towards our common promise to save lives."
Daschle will have his work cut out for him, with enormous challenges facing the agencies under HHS' purview. Top priorities awaiting the next secretary of Health and Human Services include: