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Industry groups praise choice of Daschle as HHS secretary and health-reform czar

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON In a reaction that mingled political savvy with hopefulness about the future direction of health-reform efforts, pharmacy and healthcare industry groups were unanimous in their praise of President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as the nation’s top healthcare official.

Daschle, who lost his seat in Congress in 2004, will serve as both secretary of Health & Human Services and head of a new White House Office of Health Reform, the President-elect announced yesterday. As such, he will lead a determined charge by the Obama Administration to reshape, perhaps fundamentally, the nation’s overwrought healthcare system—and to sell that vision to a Congress preoccupied with the global economic meltdown, the threat of terrorism and other issues.

The former Democratic senator from South Dakota “will be responsible not just for implementing our healthcare plan. He will also be the lead architect of that plan,” Obama told reporters yesterday.

Daschle, 61, is no stranger to health-reform efforts. He recently published a book detailing his proposals to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, co-authored by Jeanne Lambrew, who will serve as deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform. As HHS secretary, Daschle will oversee a massive federal health infrastructure that includes the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.

Reaction to Daschle’s appointment was rapid and widespread, reflecting perhaps a desire among health industry groups to curry favor with the incoming administration, as well as a genuine expression of hope for change to a system plagued by unsustainable costs, inefficiency, antiquated information-sharing and lack of patient oversight.

Among those who endorsed Daschle’s selection yesterday was Steven Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “NACDS applauds the nomination of former Senator Tom Daschle,” Anderson noted. “As an association representing retail pharmacies [that] are healthcare providers and also employers, we look forward to working with the Administration on healthcare reform to make it a reality.

“President-elect Obama referred to Mr. Daschle today as the ‘architect’ of reforming the healthcare system,” added NACDS’ top executive. “In these economically challenging times, his healthcare policy expertise will be valuable in the effort to reform healthcare to curb costs and help ensure affordable, quality and accessible healthcare for Americans.”

John Gray, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, called Daschle “a strong choice to lead HHS and to coordinate efforts within the Administration as we enter a new era of healthcare reform.

“Our member companies, the nation’s primary healthcare distributors, are committed to developing healthcare policies that improve the safety, affordability and accessibility of patient-focused healthcare,” Gray added. “Health care is one of the top priorities on our nation’s agenda, and more than ever we will need to work together—across business and government—to develop practical solutions to enhance the U.S. healthcare system.”

Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, praised the incoming health reform czar for his “unparalleled experience in understanding how Washington works coupled with a true dedication to creating a dialogue with the American people on how to build a healthier nation.

“Senator Daschle’s longstanding commitment to improving access to quality, affordable health care makes him an outstanding choice to lead our nation’s effort to enact effective healthcare reform,” said Jaeger. “He has already hit the ground running by reaching out to the healthcare community and concerned citizens to ensure that we move in the right direction,” she added. “There is no doubt that tackling escalating healthcare costs has reached crisis proportions as our economy spirals downward.”

The health insurance and pharmacy benefit management industries also weighed in. “The American people will welcome the nomination of Senator Tom Daschle because it signals that the incoming administration intends to prioritize comprehensive healthcare reform,” noted Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “Senator Daschle is exceptionally well qualified to bring people together in support of universal coverage, cost-containment, and improved quality.”

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, for its part, called the new HHS secretary “a recognized leader and the right choice to drive President-elect Obama’s mission to reform health care in this country.

“An immediate priority outlined by the President-elect is to modernize health care and reduce costs by implementing the increased use of electronic health records. PCMA looks forward to working with Secretary-designate Daschle and the new Administration on accelerating adoption of waste-cutting EHRs and other health information technologies such as electronic prescribing that improve quality, efficiency and save money,” added the group in a statement.

Also citing the need for change was Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents more than 300 large employers. “A consensus is emerging that the status quo is intolerable and unconscionable,” she said yesterday. “We strongly applaud the appointments of…Daschle and Dr. Jeanne Lambrew. 

“Senator Daschle’s appointment will vastly improve the chances for enacting sustainable health reforms that will help transform the system,” added Darling. “Dr. Lambrew blends nationally recognized policy expertise with a real-world understanding of the challenges facing the healthcare system and will play a pivotal role in making reform a reality.”

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Management shakeup continues at Sanofi-Aventis

BY Jim Frederick

PARIS Drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA said Wednesday that its top legal and financial officer has stepped down, extending a management shuffle that led to the appointment of a new chief executive, GlaxoSmithKline PLC veteran Chris Viehbacher, Dec. 1.

In the latest change, Sanofi announced the abrupt resignation yesterday of Jean-Claude Leroy, a 23-year company veteran who last served as executive vice president of finance and legal affairs. As of Dec. 10, His replacements are Laurence Debroux, senior vice president and chief financial officer, and Karen Linehan, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel.

Both have been named to Sanofi-Aventis’ executive committee and group management committee, and will report directly to the company’s new CEO, the French-based pharmaceutical firm announced.

Before coming to Sanofi, Viehbacher was president of North American pharmaceutical operations for GSK, and co-chairman of that company’s Portfolio Management Board, which oversees strategic decisions for research and development. At Sanofi, he’s expected to lead efforts to recharge the company’s drug-development pipeline and marketing prowess amid today’s difficult economic climate.

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Report calls for better adolescent health care

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON Reform is needed in health care services for adolescents, who often engage in risky behavior, as the services and providers that are needed and used by adolescents are often fragmented, resulting in gaps in care, according to a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

While most U.S. adolescents (those aged 10 to 19) are healthy, many engage in risky behavior, develop unhealthy habits and have physical and mental conditions that can jeopardize their health. 

“As policymakers discuss how to restructure the way healthcare is delivered in the U.S., the distinct problems faced by adolescents‹such as risky behavior‹deserve particular attention. And because adolescence is a critical period for developing habits that build a strong foundation for health throughout one?s entire life, services need to focus on promoting healthy behaviors, preventing disease and managing health conditions,” stated committee chair Robert Lawrence, professor of environmental health sciences and health policy at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Furthermore, the various services and providers that are needed and used by adolescents are often fragmented, resulting in gaps in care. For example, specialty services in mental health, sexual health, oral health and substance abuse treatment are not accessible to most adolescents.

The report suggests that a system be developed that fosters coordination between primary and specialty care; it should also include opportunities for primary care services to reach adolescents through safety-net settings, such as hospitals and community health centers and programs. Also, a stronger focus is needed on meeting the needs of adolescents who may be especially vulnerable to risky behavior or poor health‹for example, those who are poor, recent immigrants or those in foster care.

Federal and state policy makers also should develop strategies to ensure that all adolescents have comprehensive, continuous health insurance coverage, the report states. More than five million Americans aged 10 to 19 are uninsured and they use care less often and are less likely to have a regular source of primary care than those young people who are insured.

To improve the skills of health professionals to interact effectively with this age group, the report recommends that regulatory bodies incorporate competencies in adolescent care in their licensing, certification and accreditation requirements. Also, public and private funders should provide financial support to expand and sustain interdisciplinary training programs in adolescent health.

It is also recommended that, as an overarching principle, adolescents give their own consent before their health information is shared with others, even their parents, according to the report.

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