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By Consumers Union on Monday, November 24th, 2008

Last week’s selection of Tom Daschle as health secretary moves the nation closer to meaningful health reforms that can begin to slow cost increases for families, taxpayers and businesses and get everyone into coverage.

Consumers Union and Families USA both supported the choice immediately. While the Republican Party and the red roots sniped about his ties to Washington insiders (if the choice had been a Washington outsider, would they have complained about the lack of experience?), other Republicans recognize his strengths.

Daschle’s strong Capitol Hill ties and knowledge of how the Health and Human Services Department works mean “it is a perfect appointment,” said former Republican Rep. John Porter, who chairs the medical research advocacy group Research!America. “He’ll do an outstanding job.”

We already have a pretty good idea what Daschle will want to accomplish. He wouldn’t agree to take the post unless President-elect Obama also placed him at the head of the administration’s health reform working group. Earlier this year, addressing a Families USA conference, Daschle spoke out in favor of a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, approach to reducing costs and improving care.

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic gives us a pretty good, short description of one of Daschle’s key ideas to reduce costs — weeding out payments for wasteful or unnecessary care. Daschle describes the idea in more detail himself, over on Huffington Post.

Consumers Union considers this a critical starting point, but one that will require a focus on independent research and better information for people who need care. We recently launched a major tool to look more carefully at aggressive care–in hospitals when its needed and when it might be too much. But as we build out such tools, we are painfully aware that not enough money is spent on research to tell us whether new, expensive treatments are more (or less) effective than older, lower cost treatments.

Cost savings will need to come from addressing every part of the healthcare economy–from the front line family doctors who spend too much time fighting bureaucracy, to a payment system that rewards more procedures rather than good outcomes, to the drug companies who spend too much money on TV ads for pricey, brand name products. Daschle is among the few policy leaders in the country with both the vision and the political savy to get us there.

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