Daschle withdraws as HHS nominee clouding Obama’s health reform plans
WASHINGTON In a surprise announcement this afternoon, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said he is withdrawing his nomination to head the Dept. of Health & Human Services.
Daschle’s decision to withdraw – following revelations of delinquent tax payments that have dogged his Senate confirmation process over the past week – has knocked the Obama Administration’s plans for an orderly Cabinet confirmation process off balance. Worse, Daschle’s exit has clouded the new president’s plans for sweeping and rapid reform of the U.S. health care system.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said he was informed of Daschle’s decision this morning. “I accept his decision with sadness and regret,” said the President.
In recent weeks, Senate approval of the former senator to head the powerful agency – as well as a new White House office in charge of health-reform efforts – seemed all but assured. But revelations that Daschle had failed to pay $120,000 in taxes stemming from use of a limo and driver gained traction in the Senate, and a rapid erosion of support among Republican lawmakers that culminated in a closed-door meeting in which he announced his decision to pull out of the confirmation process.
Some lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, are reportedly predicting that Daschle’s withdrawal could be a serious impediment to efforts by the President to overhaul the U.S. health system and expand coverage to more of the nation’s estimated 46 million uninsured Americans.
Daschle was the powerful Senate majority leader until he lost his seat in the 2004 elections, and has been busy in recent years promoting cost-effective health reform proposals. Many of those proposals were laid out in a book titled Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Crisis, which the former Democratic senator from North Dakota co-authored with Jeanne Lambrew, who has been tapped by President Obama for the new post of deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform.
Daschle has long a broader system of insuring Americans for medical expenses, including pharmaceuticals, with federal aid. He also proposed creating a federal board—modeled after the Federal Reserve Board and “independent from politics,” in Daschle’s words—to oversee federal health care expenditures by “determining which medicines, treatments, and procedures are most effective—and identifying those that do not justify their high price tags.”
Prospects for those proposals are muddled by Daschle’s exit, but it’s certain that the Obama Administration will continue to champion broader coverage, lower drug costs through generic drugs and follow-on biologics, drug importation, health information technology and other health reform initiatives. What’s more, the nomination for deputy HHS secretary of William Corr, an ardent proponent of generics as a cost-saving tool and of more preventive-health programs, appears to be on track despite Daschle’s withdrawal.
Urging stronger grassroots efforts, NACDS unveils RxIMPACT initiative
CHANDLER, Ariz. Addressing the organization’s 28th annual Regional Chain Conference, leaders of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores exhorted smaller-chain pharmacy operators to help defend the industry from burdensome patient-privacy regulations and other threats, and to rally behind a new grassroots advocacy initiative.
That initiative, called RxIMPACT, marks an acceleration of NACDS efforts to “engage members and the communities they serve by learning how to interact with lawmakers through advocacy and training programs, pharmacy tours, Capitol Hill visits and other personalized grassroots services,” noted an organization spokesperson. NACDS will hold its first RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill on June 16 to 17, 2009.
The need for effective and sustained grassroots lobbying won’t wait that long, however, NACDS president Steven Anderson and newly elected chairman Andy Giancamilli told regional chain members at the conference here. And among the most critical and immediate priorities is the campaign by NACDS and other advocacy groups to slow the rush in Congress to adopt new privacy provisions that industry leaders say would damage pharmacist-patient relationships, slow the adoption of health information technology and hike business costs for pharmacy retailers.
Those tougher privacy laws are contained in new legislation to spur the adoption of HIT as part of the massive economic stimulus bill now under consideration in the Senate. But given the patient confidentiality protections already in place under HIPAA regulations, those privacy provisions are ill-conceived and unnecessary, NACDS leaders told members at the conference.
“Sometimes,” Anderson asserted, “an issue is propelled by the political sails of what I call ‘faulty nomenclature.’ Faulty nomenclature is the use of politically popular terms to describe what is in reality poor policy. In this case, that term is ‘privacy.’”
Anderson reiterated NACDS’ support of HIT, but noted the unintended consequences of so-called “privacy” provisions that he said would impact the entire healthcare delivery system. “We need to assure Congress that we know privacy, and this isn’t it,” he said. “We need to let Congress know that the unintended consequences of what they are considering could actually hinder HIT adoption, stunt economic stimulus and, most importantly, harm patient care.
“Does Congress really want to stifle prescription refill reminders? That could make even worse the $177 billion in annual costs – and health consequences – from failure to take medications as prescribed,” Anderson added.
In his first address as NACDS chairman, Giancamilli appealed to members to engage directly with the political process as a new, Democratic majority in Congress grapples with the complexities of healthcare reform and technology. “The future direction of the industry hinges on the willingness of NACDS members to engage in the public policy debates of the day, since affecting our short- and long-term future is the primary reason we all choose to participate in associations like this one,” said Giancamilli, who is CEO of Katz Group North America and its U.S. subsidiary, Snyder’s Drug Stores. “But now we need even more members to engage in powering the NACDS advocacy engine.”
Pfizer discontinues phase 3 trial of axitinib as treatment for pancreatic cancer
NEW YORK Pfizer has discontinued a phase 3 trial of a drug it was investigating as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, the drug maker announced Friday.
The company said an investigative board found no evidence that patients treated with axitinib and gemcitabine did better than those treated with gemcitabine alone. Gemcitabine is a standard treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“These results were disappointing, given the trend towards prolonged survival seen in a phase 2 study of axitinib in this extremely difficult-to-treat patient population,” Pfizer Oncology Business Unit’s SVP clinical development and medical affairs Mace Rothenberg stated. “However, we remain steadfastly committed to continued investigation of axitinib in renal cell carcinoma, where it is currently in phase 3 for second-line treatment.”