Obama Administration Begins To Lay Groundwork For Health Reform

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Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for HHS secretary, on Wednesday launched an effort by the incoming administration to "lay the groundwork" for health care overhaul, the Washington Post reports. On a conference call with 1,000 Obama supporters who have expressed interest in health issues, Daschle discussed how the transition team and administration will use the Internet -- including online videos, blogs and e-mail alerts -- to initiate a grassroots overhaul effort.

In addition, Daschle said, "We'll have some exciting news about town halls, we'll have some outreach efforts in December," adding that "we'll be making some announcements" during a Thursday health care summit with Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) in Denver. Salazar said, "President-elect Obama believes that change really comes from the ground up, not from Washington," adding, "The drumbeat for change is one which goes across every single state -- red, blue and purple. That kind of a drumbeat will be very effective in achieving the change needed on health care."

Obama's staff will use the Internet in other areas but chose to begin with health care because "every American is feeling the pressure of high health costs and lack of quality care, and we feel it's important to engage them in the process of reform," transition team spokesperson Stephanie Cutter said. The online health care effort began with a 63-second video posted on Change.gov, in which health advisers Dora Hughes and Lauren Aronson posed the question, "What worries you most about the health care system in our country?" The video triggered 3,700 responses, which were turned into a "word cloud," featuring the 100 most frequently used terms. The cloud's largest words -- those that were used most frequently -- include "insurance," "system," "people" and "need." The feature also was interactive, allowing participants to reply to other users' comments and rate responses.

In a second video, Daschle said, "We want to make sure you understand how important those comments and your contributions are," adding, "Already we've begun to follow through with some of the ideas." In addition, Daschle lauded a suggestion of creating a "Health Corps," modeled after President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps.

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Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, said, "It will be a lot easier to get the American public to adopt any new health care system if they were a part of the process of crafting it" (Connolly, Washington Post, 12/4).

Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit

Obama's plan to allow the federal government to directly negotiate drug prices for the Medicare prescription drug benefit has left "drugmakers feeling ill," Dow Jones reports. The 2003 legislation that created the drug benefit allows health insurers to negotiate prices with drugmakers. According to Dow Jones, "The industry views the proposal as a frontal assault on sales and profits." According to the Boston Consulting Group, such a change could reduce industry revenue by 10%, or about $30 billion. According to Dow Jones, the "indirect impact could be even greater" because such a change could prompt private insurers that offer Part D plans to attempt to negotiate similar prices in their commercial plans.

Dow Jones reports that such a change "could deal a big financial blow to companies such as Pfizer, Merck and Wyeth, which are already hard-pressed to sustain historical profit growth rates because of generic competition and stumbles in their own efforts to bring new drugs to market." According to drugmakers, a decrease in revenue would force them to reduce spending on research and development. Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers of America, said, "I don't know if they want to declare war like that when there's so much room to work together and so much willingness to work together." However, Tauzin acknowledged that Obama and Congress "could do it -- they've got the votes."

Dow Jones reports that if such a change emerges as a top priority for Obama, it could pass early next year and take effect as early as 2010 (Loftus, Dow Jones, 12/2).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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