Tom Daschle withdraws, and how that will impact health care reform

There’s no shortage of informed opinions on the Tom Daschle debacle, and how this will affect the chances of successful health care reform.

I don’t pretend to be a political pundit, so instead, here is a collection of selected insights from news sites and health policy blogs that I regularly read.

First off, the NY Times says it will likely halt the momentum for health reform, and “slow the president’s drive to reshape the nation’s health care system as the White House searches for a replacement, and it could allow Congress to step into the vacuum during that delay.”

Mr. Daschle was pegged for a dual role, running both Health and Human Services and the Office of Health Reform. The WSJ Health Blog writes that he had a “hard-to-find combination of qualifications, including deep ties in the Senate as well as some thoroughly articulated ideas about health reform.” There is a strong possibility that two people will be chosen to fill his shoes.

Health policy/progressive political blogger Ezra Klein points out that the consulting he provided to health insurers and speeches he gave to the pharmaceutical industry would have doomed him sooner or later. With the high ethical bar set by the Obama administration, “Daschle was doomed not by atypical corruption but by normal, even modest, conflicts of interest. But this time, in this administration, due to an odd confluence of circumstances, that was enough to scuttle his nomination.”

Fellow progressive blogger Merrill Goozner gets a case of deja vu, saying “the early stages of the Obama administration are beginning to resemble the Clinton years,” and that, “once again, a new Democratic president appears to have a semi-automatic weapon semi-permanently aimed at his foot.” He says Obama has a chance to atone for this mistake by appointing Joshua Sharfstein as FDA commissioner.

What does the ACP think of the situation? Look no further than their Washington lobbyist, Bob Doherty, who is not happy with the recent turn of events. “Daschle’s withdrawal puts a big bump in the road to health reform,” Mr. Doherty writes. “Daschle’s views on health care reform – in particular his support for primary care – provided a window into President Obama’s health reform priorities. Now, this window is closed.”

Every Washington insider is going to have issues with conflict of interest. Maggie Mahar explains that’s “why reform needs to be overseen by someone who is perceived as being above suspicion””purer than Caesar’s wife.” Does such a person exist? Is that a realistic expectation?

Finally, obstetrician-gynecologist blogger Amy Tuteur says that we should overlook Mr. Daschle’s tax troubles and conflicts of interest for the greater good of reforming the health care system. Progressives have “failed to see how, in American today, an error on one’s taxes cancel out a lifetime of public service and the promise for effective leadership on the healthcare issue. Indeed, now that Daschle has withdrawn . . . this incident has primarily benefited those who oppose comprehensive healthcare reform.”

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