Healthcare appointee adds dash of hope

Sunday, November 23, 2008

WASHINGTON - Industry stakeholders describe Tom Daschle, president-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, as the right man for the job.

"He's been a friend to the industry in the past," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "I think he appreciates the value home care adds to the healthcare system."

Daschle, a former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, will replace Michael Leavitt, the current secretary of HHS. Industry stakeholders expect Daschle, who's well respected on both sides of the aisle, to go through the confirmation process with flying colors.

Since leaving the Senate in 2004, Daschle has served as an adviser to Obama; authored a book entitled "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis"; and served as an adviser to Alston & Bird, an Atlanta-based legal and lobbying firm whose clients include CVS Caremark, Abbott Laboratories and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

"He has kept up his interest in health care," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare. " He has a firm grasp of the issues."

Industry stakeholders who worked with Daschle when he was a senator report he and his staff were "very accessible."

"He was very open to hearing the concerns of the industry and in learning more about our perspective," Johnson said. "I am under the impression that that philosophy will continue."

Invacare CEO Mal Mixon, who met with Daschle in September to talk shop, is "excited" to work with him as HHS secretary.

"We look forward to working with him, his staff, and the rest of the Obama administration to ensure that home health care is viewed as part of the solution, not the problem, in today's healthcare system," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

While he acknowledged the industry buzz surrounding Daschle's appointment, John Gallagher, vice president of government affairs for The VGM Group, doesn't think much will change, at least not for HME.

"Tom Daschle is going to be looking at this from 10,000 feet up, not down in the weeds with HME," he said. "How is this all going to play out with universal health care?"