Obama Announces Daschle as HHS Pick

Access to Health Care
Obama said one of his top priorities will be giving everyone access to affordable health care. It's expected to be one of the first orders of business and an aggressive goal -- one that eluded Bill Clinton. Daschle will lead that charge.

Obama advisers already are working with key members of Congress to hash out the plan for universal coverage. In addition to running the agency that will implement whatever plan comes out of Congress, Daschle also has been named to lead Obama's team that will help create the plan.

At a bipartisan healthcare strategy meeting today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate's Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, said he thought a health care bill would be one of the first bills considered after Congress reconvenes in January.

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to let people keep their existing insurance if they prefer. But they also would have the option of buying coverage from the sort of cooperative that's available to federal employees. People who can't afford to buy coverage would get help from the federal government.

His plan also would force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions while also trying to block the skyrocketing costs of medical care. Whatever the final contours, the plan will have a huge impact on powerful forces: patients, doctors, hospitals, insurers and drug companies.

Daschle will be at ground zero of the same kind of massive lobbying battle that hamstrung then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in her failed attempt to put together a plan.

Medicare Part D
Passed under the Bush administration, Medicare Part D was the largest expansion to the Medicare program since its inception. Under Part D, the government pays for some of the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and others on Medicare. The president -elect supports the program but with some major changes -- chief among them, allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower drug prices for the Medicare program.

The new administration also wants to try to close the so-called "doughnut hole." Seniors who have already had a certain amount of their drug costs covered by the government fall into that "hole," where the government will no long reimburse for prescription drugs until seniors have paid out a certain amount of their own money. Then the government again picks up coverage.

Food and Drug Safety
At the FDA, concerns about food and drug safety reached new levels on the Bush administration's watch. Concerns about the safety of diabetes drug Avandia and recalls of the painkiller Vioxx have some wondering whether the FDA is effectively regulating drugmakers. Consumers have also worried about whether the FDA has been doing enough to inspect foreign food and drug plants, as the FDA has recently been tasked with identifying the source of salmonella outbreaks, blocking the import of Chinese milk products and zeroing in on where along its international supply chain the blood thinner heparin became tainted.

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