HEARING OF THE SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: NOMINATION OF TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, TO BE SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES IN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA) INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY: SENATOR TIM JOHNSON (D-SD); FORMER SENATOR BOB DOLE (R-KS)
WITNESS: FORMER SENATOR TOM DASCHLE, NOMINEE
SEN. KENNEDY: (In progress.) We have a wonderful turnout of the members of the Committee. And we have an extraordinary panel here that has had a -- incredible life and commitment to health and human services, and we are just delighted that they are here. We'll look forward to their statement, or testimony, and then we'll proceed with Senator -- our senators right after that.
So we will recognize Senator Dole first.
SEN. : We were going to have Senator Johnson go first --
SEN. KENNEDY: Fine. That's -- starting with the strong man. (Laughter.) Here we go. Senator Johnson -- (inaudible).
SEN. JOHNSON (?): (Inaudible) -- drum roll.
SEN. KENNEDY: Always good to hear you, and we're very, very appreciative of your presence here and your excellent work in the Senate. Thank you.
SEN. JOHNSON: I'm still -- I'm still uncertain, so it's -- (laughter).
Chairman Kennedy, Senator Enzi, and members of the Committee, I'm so pleased to introduce my good friend and former colleague, Tom Daschle, as the Health Committee considers his nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services.
I've watched and admired Tom's career in public service for many years. I remember his first campaign for Congress in 1978, the same year as my first run for the South Dakota legislature.
Through the past 23 years Tom has become one of my closest friends, and I have marveled at his deep dedication to service, relentless work ethic, and unending commitment to serving the people of our home state and our nation.
Now Tom has been called upon to return to public service as secretary of Health and Human Services. I know our country will be a -- (word inaudible) -- place because Tom chose to answer that call. His passion for ensuring that all Americans have access to quality health care is second to none.
With Tom's unique understanding of the many problems plaguing health care in America and his commitment to solving them with fresh ideas, we have our first chance to actually improve health care for all Americans.
I urge the members of this Committee and my Senate colleagues to confirm Tom Daschle's nomination so that we can all get to work reforming health care in America.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much. I really appreciate taking the time to be with us, Senator.
And now we'll hear from Senator Dole.
MR. DOLE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's obviously a privilege to be here with my friend, Tom Daschle, and with Tim.
And we're both -- Tim has made his statement, and we -- mine is very short, but we want to underscore not only Tom's qualifications, but the importance of the job he's going to assume when he's confirmed. And so this is a very -- as I understand it, the first hearing that's been held on any of President-Elect Obama's nominees.
Let me first say to Senator Johnson that it's good to be with you, and I speak personally of how everyone is tremendously proud of your meeting a difficult challenge and making a recovery.
It's been inspiring and gave hope to everyone, particularly those in the disabled community. So it's an honor to be with you, and also with the chairman, Senator Kennedy.
I am here today, as I said, as a friend and a former colleague. I served with Tom for 10 years, including two years when we both served as our party's leader, before I left voluntarily in 1996.
So I've had a long decade of working with Tom -- in and out of the Senate, on a number of issues, such as agriculture and energy and health care, trade, and many more.
And I can testify not only to his expertise on issues, but mostly importantly, I think, to the American people and the people he'll be dealing with and his colleagues and former colleagues in the Senate and the House, is Tom's integrity and fairness, which I think gives everybody confidence, even though you may not agree on a particular issue.
We're now in the same law firm, Alston and Bird, where he works and I just show up. (Mild laughter.) In addition to advising clients and hosting events and telling people what we think we know about the political process, we've traveled around the country together discussing issues of the day.
We both pretty much know each other's lines. We're not a threat to Leno or Letterman or anybody. But Tom should tell you his one story about the model senator, which I think is very good, and I know they'd appreciate it.
But along with our former colleagues (at the present ?) time -- Senator Baker and Senator Mitchell and myself and Senator Daschle -- we've worked for two years on -- in the Bipartisan Policy Center. And the goal is to address a few of the major important challenges and, where possible, reach meaningful consensus along with recommendations that we think might be received by the members of the Congress in both parties.
And for the past nine months, working with the Bipartisan Policy panel, Senator Daschle and I, with Senator Baker and Mitchell, have been working on health care reform. And Baker and Mitchell and myself will have to finish the job, because Tom'll be in another position.
But we hope we can adopt some recommendations that will have -- will resonate with many in the Congress and with those who have a direct interest, as well as the American people.
And I -- we all know from past experience it's a very difficult issue. And it probably won't find agreement on everything, but we certainly appreciated Tom's hard work, his views. He -- he's written a book on health care, and he's been a tireless worker in this area for as long as I can remember.
He also recently worked on another bipartisan effort with another former Senate majority leader, Senator Bill Frist, on the ONE Vote '08 campaign addressing health and poverty in developing countries.
As most of you know, Senator Daschle has spent a good part of his career focused on health care. He has demonstrated his interest in leading the health -- on health care throughout his career in both the House and the Senate. As I have said, he's written a book entitled Critical on reforming the system.
What is important is that the president-elect has selected an individual who begins the important task of reforming health care with, one, the ability to hit the ground running, because Tom knows this forwards and backwards. And he really understands, almost as well as staff experts, most of the issues when it comes to health care.
And secondly, I think the fact that he understands Congress. If anybody understands Congress, it's Tom Daschle, serving eight years in the House and having been in the Senate and being the only senator ever to serve twice as both majority and minority leader in the Senate. And he enjoyed being majority leader more. (Mild laughter.)
But Senator Daschle and I both believe politics is an honorable profession. He is a role model to many because he knows how he got here. He knows who he is, and he has not forgotten his legion of friends in South Dakota who sent him here.
I had a call from George McGovern, a fellow South Dakotan, just two days ago, telling him -- talked about being here to introduce Senator Daschle and what a privilege it was. And he wanted me to express his best wishes and thoughts. And I know you're long-time friends.
And Senator McGovern has done a great job in the area of international -- coping with domestic and international hunger.
So I was around here for quite a while, and I have a sense that the time has come for real, constructive bipartisan action on health care. The American people and Congress are ready to address this particular issue about the uninsured and accessibility, affordability, the spiraling costs.
And if you feel as we do, we have a nominee who understands bipartisanship, is best in the long range, even though with a big Democratic majority, he may not need Republicans. But I think it goes beyond numbers.
So I just, again, thank the Committee for letting me appear on behalf of my good friend, and wish you all a Happy New Year, and look forward to what others may have to say.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much, Senator Dole, for your words. And we'd welcome your staying, remaining for the Committee's hearings. We understand you have other responsibilities as well. So thank you very, very much for being here.
The way we're going to proceed is I'll make a brief opening statement; Senator Enzi will make a statement, and then we'll hear from Senator Daschle, who will speak. And then we'll go through the members of the Committee.
We're a very broad membership here today, and what we'll do is start off with at least five minutes of -- as opening statements, and then we'll continue to move along as other members come here.
So it is a honor to welcome our members to our first hearing of the new Congress.
I particularly welcome our very special witness today. A valued friend and a former colleague, Tom Daschle is a leader of great integrity and strong dedication. He has served this nation with distinction both in uniform and in the Senate. He has admirers all across the country and on both sides of the aisle.
I commend President-elect Obama for selecting such an extraordinary nominee to lead the nation's health care agenda. Tom Daschle understands the urgency and the challenge of health reform. He knows that Americans feel the heavy weight of rising costs. He knows that families are afraid that they will lose their health insurance. And he knows that 46 million Americans do not have health insurance at all. Reform is urgently needed and Tom Daschle is just the person for the job.
In considering health care reform, the fundamental question before us was once expressed in words far more eloquent than my own: "Will we honor the unique American ideal that we are responsible for passing this country on to a generation in the future -- is that better? Or will we forfeit the promise of the future for the reward of the moment?" Those are not my words, they're the words of an extraordinary Senate leader as he said farewell to the Senate four years ago. We must answer that question by taking action now to provide affordable and quality health care for all Americans.
Senator Daschle, welcome to our committee, and I look forward to your early confirmation as the secretary of Health and Human Services. Thank you for being here.
SEN. ENZI: Mr. Chairman, I want to welcome you back to the committee and congratulate you on being the first to hold a hearing on the -- on President-Elect Obama's nominees. That's typical Senator Kennedy fashion to get right into it right away -- be first. But, I also want to thank you for the time, while you were gone, and the way that you distributed the workload among the members of the committee so that we could continue on the important things that we've gotten done.
And I particularly want to thank and congratulate Senator Mikulski for her tremendous work on the Higher Education Act --
SEN. KENNEDY: (Off mike.) Yes.
SEN. ENZI: -- She was a great catalyst and a real staunch promoter of getting that done. And, as a result, we did, and that was due to your leadership. And I know that the members of this committee take the advice and consent clause of the Constitution seriously, and I was pleased to learn that the Health committee had an aggressive hearing schedule on the important Cabinet-level positions that will come through this committee.
I'd also like to congratulate Senator Daschle on his appointment, and welcome this former colleague and member of this institution. When former senators come before this institution for confirmation it's similar, I hope, to returning home to family, in a way.
I understand that the Senate Finance committee, on which Senator Daschle served while he was a member of this body, has the primary jurisdiction over this nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services. But, because of the overlap in our work -- and, in fact, we do probably more in that area, I think, than the Finance committee does, the number of federal programs that the Health committee authorizes, that are administered by Health and Human Services -- the Health committee has established this tradition of holding a hearing on this Cabinet-level position, and I appreciate you participating in it.
I would mention that since 2001, the Health committee held hearings on both the nominations of former secretaries Tommy Thompson and on Mike Leavitt, in January, 2001 and 2005, respectively. Both of these nominees were confirmed within two weeks of their hearing before this committee. So, the Health committee, particularly Senator Kennedy and I, have established a track record of working quickly on this front.
Senator Kennedy and I also have a track record of finding solutions for problems Americans face on domestic policy front. We try to work together when possible to write legislation that focuses on what we can agree on, not what divides us. That's what we refer to as the 80 percent rule -- 80 percent of the issues the Senate generally agrees on, while the remaining 20 percent are divisive and the subject of disputes on the Senate floor. And the same works with any bill. Usually there's 80 percent we can agree on, and another 20 percent that we could discuss forever. We prefer to get the 80 percent done.
So, as we begin this nomination hearing today I want to express my hope that Senator Daschle and I will have a strong working relationship, as will our staff, and as will other members of the committee. There are going to be areas in which we disagree, but my hope and expectation is that by focusing on solutions, we can produce meaningful results for hardworking Americans that meet the 80 percent rule, and do it through the committee process. Our health care system is broken, and fixing it is one area where I hope this 80 percent rule comes into play so commonsense reforms can be made.
The American people deserve solutions, not just debate. I've read Senator Daschle's health care book and appreciate both the history and the direction. In fact, I directed my staff to read the book as well. Many of them have. I know that we have a shared commitment to reducing the number of uninsured Americans, containing costs, improving quality, and making health care more accessible to everyone.
We got to speak earlier in the month, and then considerably longer a few days ago. And we've gotten to talk about both his book and my "10 Steps to Transform Health Care," which is on my website, which is a collection of ideas that I've gathered across the aisle from people. So, while we don't always agree, and won't always agree, we have both put concrete health care proposals on the table for discussion previously. Now, my hope and expectation is that in this Congress we'll focus on legislating solutions that will make a difference in people's lives while, mostly importantly, abiding by the golden rule to "do no harm."
To that end, I have a series of questions which will begin in the question and answer portion of the hearing, and then a host of follow- up questions for the record. And in the spirit to helping to accelerate your nomination, I would appreciate your quick response, and know that you'll do that.
In closing, I'd like to again welcome Chairman Kennedy back to the committee in the Senate, and thank you for calling this hearing today.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you, Senator Enzi. As always, you're very gracious in extending your warm welcome, and I thank you for your -- continuing opportunity to work with you on so many of these issue that are important to our whole constitution.
It's my desire to introduce each of the members of the Daschle family. There are almost as many as of our Kennedys. But, maybe they'd be good enough to be -- if they'd introduce themselves, we'd very much appreciate it. I don't know, will you go from the youngest to the oldest, or the oldest to the youngest. I can tell you, in my family, how (it was called ?). But, in any event, why don't we start off with -- over here.
(Off mike, the Daschle family introduce themselves.)
I'm Kelly Daschle -- (inaudible) --
SEN. KENNEDY: Make sure you speak up so we can hear -- that's good.
Kelly Daschle. I'm his eldest daughter.
Eric Chader. I'm Kelly's husband, and son-in-law.
Lindsay Daschle. I'm the youngest daughter.
Tommy Ross. I'm married to Lindsay.
Linda Daschle. I am the oldest.
Jill Daschle. I'm Tom's daughter-in-law.
SEN. KENNEDY: Let's see, that's about it. Well, we want to thank all of you. And we want to, particularly, thank Linda. It's good to see you. She's a great friend of so many on this committee. And Jill Daschle has been a long time friend of many of us on this committee.
Now if we might proceed, we'll hear from Senator Daschle.
MR. DASCHLE: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for your courtesy and for giving me the opportunity to be with you today. And I must say how wonderful it is to see you in that chair again.
SEN. KENNEDY: (Off mike.) Thank you very much.
MR. DASCHLE: I thank you, and I thank Senator Enzi for the opportunity to talk about an issue that we care so deeply about. And before I get into my statement, let me just thank my family, especially, for being here, as they are; and for all of the support, and affection and encouragement that they've given me over these past few weeks and months. It has meant everything to me.
But it also means a great deal that two very, very close and dear friends could be here to introduce me. Tim and I have known each other for well over 30 years, in so many stages in life. And I'm honored to call him one of my best friends. And I am grateful for the extraordinary leadership and partnership that he has shown in South Dakota these many, many years.
Bob Dole has gone the extra mile to show what it is to be friends with somebody on the other side of the aisle. He has reached out to me from the very beginning when I came to the Senate; when I became leader.
When I left the Senate, he was the very first person to come to me to talk about post-Senate life, and he has been my partner, as he said, for four years at the law firm. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate that friendship.
He mentioned this line. We do. We've kind of adopted it. When he's not around, I use his lines. And I don't think he's ever had to use mine, but we talk about -- I was introduced once as a model politician and a model legislator and a model South Dakotan. Linda showed me the word "model" as it's defined in the dictionary, and there it's defined as a small replica of the real thing. (Laughter.) Well, in the best sense of the word, Bob Dole is a model friend and somebody that I have admired and will continue to admire the rest of my life.
I want to thank all of my former colleagues and friends on the committee dais as well.
From keeping our food and medicine safe to tracking infectious diseases to helping families in need to researching the cures of tomorrow to providing care to underserved populations, the Department of Health and Human Services has a significant role to play in keeping America healthy.
This department will also be central to tackling one of the greatest challenges of our time -- reforming the U.S. health care system. The flaws in our health system are pervasive and corrosive. They threaten our health and economic security. And that is why the president-elect has crafted the new White House Office of Health Reform, and I'm honored to be chosen to serve in this role as well.
If confirmed, I will use these dual roles to marshal the talent and energy necessary to at last succeed in making health care affordable and accessible for all Americans. I'm grateful to the president-elect for putting his trust in me, and I look forward to returning to public service at a pivotal moment in American history.
Let me begin by again reiterating my gratitude to our chair and ranking member, but testifying on the subject of health care before Ted Kennedy feels a bit like talking about one's trumpet playing skills in front of Louis Armstrong. And Senator Enzi, while he may not have been here the same number of years as Senator Kennedy, has been an effective voice in sounding the call for change through his leadership on the committee as well.
As I know it is for many of you, health care is personal to me. I ran for Congress 30 years ago to help places like rural South Dakota, where people sometimes went without proper health care because the nearest doctor's office was too far away.
When I came to the Senate, I had the privilege of serving with many of you and working on significant health care legislation, including covering millions of children through the Children's Health Insurance Program, improving the ability of workers to keep their health insurance if they lost or changed a job, and ensuring that advances in genetics didn't lead to health and employment discrimination.
When I left the Senate, I was able to travel around the country talking to businesses and community groups and people I met about what was broken in our health care system and co-wrote a book called "Critical" about how I thought we might fix it.
While our investments in research and pioneering work by our scientists lead innovation, too often patients don't actually get our best. In 1994, we had 37 million Americans who were uninsured. Today that number is 46 million. In 1987, one dollar out of 15 went toward health care for the average family. Today it's one out of six.
President-elect Obama recognizes that many of you have been working for many years on these issues and that any effort at reform will require very close collaboration with Congress. He also realizes that change cannot be dictated from the White House or from Washington out, but must come from the grassroots of this country and involve as many Americans as possible in the process of reform.
In addition to being collaborative, it also needs to be an open, transparent process where people know their voices are being heard. We've already begun to listen. During the transition we reached millions of Americans via our website, Change.gov, to get their input on how best to change our health care system. Tens of thousands of Americans shared their greatest concerns about health reform, and thousands more opened their homes to host health care community discussions.
We are currently compiling their reports to share with each of you and the president-elect and everyone else. But one thing was crystal clear: America cannot afford more of the same when it comes to health care in this country. And on this, I hope we can all agree. It is unacceptable that in a nation of approximately 300 million people, nearly one in six Americans don't have health insurance.
As we face a harsh and deep recession, the problem of the uninsured is likely to grow. But the number of uninsured only describes part of the problem. Even Americans who do have health insurance don't always get the care they need, especially high-value preventative care. In some cases, this is due to a shortage of providers, especially primary care providers in rural areas that we must work to address. In other cases, it is simply because our health care system is not oriented towards prevention, and therefore fails to incentivize the screenings and lifestyle changes that can do so much to improve health.
Any health care reform plan must make sure that every American has preventative care that prevents disease and disability. Coverage after you get sick should be a second line of defense. Today it's often the first line.
In addition to being sound medicine, this is sound fiscal policy. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on prevention could actually net a return of $5.60 in health care costs, totaling upwards of $16 billion annually within five years.
But it's not enough to give every American care. It needs to be high-quality care. By some measures, nearly one-third of the care Americans receive is at best inadequate, and at worst harmful. Disparities in access and quality produce disparities in outcomes. On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, one-half the people over 40 have diabetes, and the life expectancy today is just 47 years, or what life expectancy was for the rest of the country in 1900. This, too, is unacceptable.
We need to make sure that every American gets high-quality care. And if you see fit to support my nomination, I'll make sure this goal includes the Indian Health Service.
But even if every American had good insurance and great care, we'd still have an overwhelming problem related to health costs. Over the past nine years, health insurance premiums rose three times faster than inflation. The fact that health care premiums have doubled in the last eight years leads some families to make the awful choice between health insurance and rent or heat and food. And these cost increases are as unsustainable for our national budget as they are for our families' budget.
By 2025, the Congressional Budget Office projects that health care will account for 25 percent of our GDP. By comparison, the entire federal budget today is about 20 percent of GDP. Any health care reform plan must achieve the three goals of increasing access and quality while containing costs.
But helping to develop a successful plan is only part of what the next secretary of Health and Human Services must do. I believe the agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services can do a great deal to promote a system of wellness rather than a system of acute care, from the laboratory bench to the bedside.
Take the example of heart disease. Research funded by the NIH led to drugs approved by the FDA, which, together with the prevention promoted by CDC, have helped cut deaths from heart disease in this country by half.
Now we must do the same for other chronic and preventable conditions. And I want to assure the Congress and the American people that as we make determinations about what is safe and what is not, what is effective and what is not, we will be guided by evidence and effectiveness, not by ideology.
Finally, let me say that the department will remain dedicated to performing all of its vital services -- ensuring our medical systems are prepared to respond to natural disasters, strengthening our public health system, working to improve the healthy development of our children through Head Start, confronting the challenge of long-term care for the elderly, working with states on child support enforcement and providing assistance to people with disabilities. Especially in these difficult economic times, the human services function of Health and Human Services will continue to be a lifeline for many Americans.
So let me close where I began, with the need to reform our system. When health care reform collapsed in 1994, I remember all the criticism people had after the fact. They said that it took too long. They said that the process was too opaque.
They said the plan was too hard to understand. And they said the changes felt too dramatic.
These are good arguments for undertaking reform in a way that is aggressive, open and responsive to American concerns. But they are not good arguments for ignoring the problem.
One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela. Referring to an to apartheid, he once said, "Some things seem impossible until they are done." He could have been talking about health care reform because for generations now it has seemed an impossible goal.
But this time, the cost of failure is simply too high. This time, working together, Democrats and Republicans can show it no longer has to be impossible. This time, it can be done.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I'd be happy to take your questions.
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, thank you very much, Senator Daschle, for really a superb statement and a review of the central challenges that we face as a country.
I'll ask just a few questions, and then we'll move on, going back and forth on our committee.
First of all, you've taken some time recently to do a listening session all across the country about what the needs are in this country on health care. I thought you might just review what you've found during the past several months and weeks that you've been doing this hearing across the country. Can you tell us a little bit of what you've seen, what you've found? Any stories or interesting comments that you might want to make on that?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Mr. Chairman, it was just a wonderful opportunity to hear directly from the people in all parts of the country, all 50 states. Over 8,500 people offered to host these community discussions in their homes.
We had over 4,000 people who reported from those discussions. I attended a couple of them myself, one in Durbin, Indiana in a firehouse. And I can recall the fire chief said, as we asked him how it was that he could accommodate all of the concerns that he had just outlined with regard to providing meaningful health care in a rural community like Durbin, Indiana, and the fire chief started by simply saying, you know, we just kind of concluded that we're all in this together and that we have to figure out a way to address these problems together.
And I couldn't think of a better way to describe the situation, as we look at it from the perspective of our country itself. We're all in this together, and somehow we have to find a way to solve this challenge together. In their case, they have a volunteer fire department and a volunteer ambulance. And they had a lot of trouble trying to sustain their ambulance services. But because they felt that they were all in this together, everybody in the community helps out.
In talking to older people, in particular, they expressed the concern about the costs of care. In many parts of the country, they talked to us about the availability of care. A lot of people expressed the hope that we could put far more emphasis on prevention. But I think the uncertainty and the concern that people have, the anxiety they feel about being one illness away from bankruptcy came home over and over again.
So this conversation was a very helpful and a very productive one. They had a lot of good ideas about the ways that we could go forward and a lot of hope that perhaps this time we can get it right, and that working together we can begin to address their anxiety, solve this problem and recognize that when it comes to health care we really are all in it together.
SEN. KENNEDY: Could you -- and I'd ask the clerk to watch the time very carefully -- could you talk a minute or two just about the urgency that you have seen in this whole battle in trying to bring about some reform of the health care systems? What is your sense about the urgency of this? Could you speak to that for a minute or two?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I've concluded and I've conversations with many of you, all of you, about this. I think that the cost of the status quo, the cost of doing nothing may be the most expensive option of all. We have serious cost problems now, but every expert says that if we fail to address the issue of cost that the situation will double just in the next 10 years alone.
The people at General Motors once told us they actually spend more on health care today than they do on steel. The folks at Starbucks told us that they spend more on health care than they do on coffee. And that the American family spends more on health care than they do on virtually any other thing but rent.
And so from a cost point of view alone, we know this situation will be dramatically exacerbated if we do nothing. The same could be said for access. We have huge problems with regard to the number of uninsured, but that's really the tip of the iceberg.
We have a number of people who are so underinsured that today we're told statistically you have about a 50-50 chance, if you're insured, of getting the care that you need -- 50-50. And that is only going to get worse if we continue to fail to address this problem adequately.
And then finally, the issue of quality continues to be a very pervasive and corrosive one. It troubles me that while we spend more than any other country, according to just about every evaluation that exists today, we come in somewhere in the 30s. The most recent ranking in the World Health Organization was 37th in overall outcomes -- 37th -- and 31st in life expectancy and 29th in infant mortality, 24th in overall women's health.
We don't do very well. And so we've got to figure a way to improve quality. And I know that a lot of you have given a lot of thought to that. And I hope we can work together to find ways to ensure that quality can be something every American can count on.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.
Now for Senator Enzi.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I'll try and follow your lead and staying within the time limits. That was very impressive.
I'll start off with a question for Senator Daschle that I hope is just a one-word answer. One reason we pass a considerable amount of legislation through this committee through unanimous consent is because of a good working relationship between the majority and the minority, both the senators and the staff. If confirmed, would you pledge to cooperate in this type of a working relationship with all senators on the committee, Democrat or Republican, and by promptly responding to any written or phone inquiries, sharing information as soon as it becomes available and directing your staff to do the same?
MR. DASCHLE: Yes.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. (Laughs.)
MR. DASCHLE: If I could just elaborate, I wanted to give you a one-word answer with no qualifications. But just yes for emphasis. I really want to work in a collaborative way. It's the only way we're going to get this done. And I want to be as responsive as I expected people to be when I asked those questions.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. Another reason that we're able to get a lot of things done in this committee is that we do follow the legislative process. And I know you're very familiar with that. Part of the process, though, is one you'd have a unique appreciation for is the use of the budget reconciliation. And that sometimes undermines bipartisan support for legislation. And so when we're trying to create a health care policy, you've stated before that you're not looking for a 51-vote solution but rather a 70, 80 or 90-vote solution. I hope you believe that's a correct approach to enact health care reform.
And in the interest of building bipartisan support, will you discourage members from using the budget reconciliation process and, hopefully, even the stimulus package which will eliminate the ability to really get into the issues and make sure that the unintended consequences are covered and that sort of thing?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I can give you a one-word answer on that, too, and that's yes. Senator Enzi, our goal, our hope and our desire, our determination is to use, as you refer to it and as is properly referred, regular order. We think these committees have tremendous talent. You have a physician and you have people that have worked these issues, as many of you have, for many, many years. We need that input. We need that involvement and that engagement.
And so I'm determined to work with each of you and use the regular order to produce the best product we can.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. I'm going to shift gears a little bit and talk about tobacco because the FDA does approve cures, not poisons. And pending legislation from the last session would give FDA regulatory authority over tobacco, a product that has no health benefits but significant risks. And I'm concerned about a regulatory regime that would lend legitimacy to the tobacco industry. Do you think that it sends a poor public health message to have an implied FDA seal of approval on an inherently unsafe product?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Enzi, I believe that it's important for us to discourage tobacco use in every way we can. I believe that it's important for us to continue the extraordinary educational effort that has been under way now for decades.
I have had many conversations with people in the Department of Health and Human Services over my time in public life and have supported efforts over the years to discourage tobacco use and to find ways of which to especially discourage the use of tobacco among younger smokers. I want to continue to find ways with which to do that.
I am inclined to believe that FDA can play a very important role in that regard, but I will promise you that I am going to look at all of the options available to us as to what may be the most efficient, the most appropriate and prudent way with which to address the issue.
I in no way would endorse in any case allowing the FDA to give its seal of approval. I think the FDA should -- if it did anything -- should regulate it in a way to provide the kind of discouraged efforts nationally and within the federal government that we have tried to build upon in public policy. But I will certainly want to look and work with you to find the most appropriate way with which that can be done.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. I think within the 80 percent rule there are some other options that we can do that will get the job done.
And I'll yield the balance of my time.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And let me --
SEN. KENNEDY: I understand that Senator Dole and Senator Johnson have other engagements. We thank you very much for your patience.
MR. DOLE: I have one client. I don't want him to get away. (Laughter.)
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Senator Dole, by the way.
I was going to mention, Bob, that before you leave that going back -- and one of the questions that I was going to raise with Tom is going back on the early childhood issues. And I was thinking here and reminding myself of a moment where you, George Mitchell and Senator Kennedy in a room with the Childcare Development Block Grant. It never would have happened but for Bob Dole, as well as Senator Kennedy. So thank you for that as well.
How about a round of applause for Bob Dole! (Applause.)
Now, Mr. Chairman, let me just also join with our nominee and Bob Dole in saying what a pleasure it is to see you back with us in the chair. And this battle in front of us -- which our nominee has very, very aptly described -- is going to require remarkable leadership. And there's never been a more remarkable leader than Ted Kennedy. So we're very thrilled to have you here with us in going through these issues.
I have an opening statement, as I'm sure all of our colleagues do, and I'd ask consent that that be included in the record if we could.
And Tom, welcome. You've described the situation well. We've got a health care situation that's broken.
Senator Lamar Alexander and I had some hearings last year on children. I had a lot of hearings over the last 26 years on this committee dealing with children's issues, but one statistic jumped out at us. It came out of a study that was actually done out of Tennessee at a children's hospital. And we talk about economic conditions in the country and we're worried that our children and grandchildren may grow up in a country that offers less opportunity economically for them. I think we're all aware of those statistics.
Well, the study in Senator Alexander's report to me was that we may be looking at the first generation of Americans who grow up less healthy than the previous generation. That's never occurred in our nation's history before. They'll lead potentially less health lives; shorter lives with many more problems and you've described some of them in your opening comments.
And so there are a lot of issues to grapple with. But I'd like to focus quickly, if I could, on these early childhood issues, because it is part of the jurisdiction as well of the health and services -- Health and Human Services area -- Head Start, Early Head Start, the Childcare Development Block Grant programs and the like.
I know that President Obama -- -elect Obama -- has pledges some $10 billion in new spending in early childhood education through a zero to five plan. I'm excited about that and I commend him for that commitment to support the parents of young children administered through early learning challenge grants. And federal early learning efforts have historically been led by the Department of Health and Human Services. It's not clear where this new program may operate.
I just wonder if you might elaborate, to the extent you can here this morning, where you think that's apt to go, how that'll be managed. Will it be still -- as I hope it will be -- under the jurisdiction of Health and Human Services? Do you have any idea about it? Maybe it's an unfair question for you at this point.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Dodd, I think you said it so well. I remember a highway sign outside of Rapid City, South Dakota many, many years ago. And all it said was, "It's so much better to build a child than to repair an adult". And I've always remembered that: It's always better to build a child than to repair an adult. And that's what you've dedicated so much of your public life to doing.
I've had many conversations with the president-elect about this and he feels as strongly as you do about the importance of that priority. Organizationally, of course, we're going to be looking at all of this in a very careful and thoughtful way. And we certainly appreciate the input of every member of this committee -- especially you -- with regard to how we do it right. But we want to empower these agencies to have the ability to address these challenges.
We're not doing as good a job as we should. We don't have the resources; we don't have the personnel. And I don't think we have the priority that it deserves. I believe in the long term, as you so correctly state with regard to health care, that one of the biggest challenges we have is obesity in this country. And one of the biggest opportunities we have to address obesity is with our children.
What a commentary it would be for us to acknowledge and then to accept that children would have a lower life expectancy than we would. But currently, that is what we're told: that children have a lower life expectancy than we have, in part because of obesity.
Well, I think we've got to address that. And I think the best way to address it is to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place in the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the states and to work with communities and to make sure that we can make it the priority that it so rightfully deserves.
SEN. DODD: Well, I thank you for that. And in fact, Senator Harkin's already had a good hearing on prevention. We spent a lot of time talking about obesity. In fact, Jeff Bingaman, myself, Senator Kennedy -- obviously -- Senator Harkin doing a lot of work on the obesity issue. And I was delighted to hear your comments. You anticipated a question, and so your statement obviously answers the question about the importance of this and that we give it that kind of emphasis.
I was stunned to hear your statistics about the diabetes level on the Indian reservations -- 50 percent of the adult population -- of course, obesity in the correlation is important.
If I may as well -- and the FDA issued -- and you and I had a good conversation the other day. And there are a number of these critical posts -- CDC obviously and FDA -- of getting someone in charge there right away.
One out of every four products Americans consume is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Twenty-five percent of everything we ingest in our bodies is regulated by them. And obviously, having someone in place there that can give us the kind of direction that you mentioned in your opening statement I think is critically important.
And in that regard, just a quick question if I could, to encourage you and ask you to comment on it to promote this work dealing with the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development at NIH and FDA. They're doing the best they can, but limited resources, I might point as well, which I know you're aware of that they have. And I would strongly encourage us to promote this work and coordinate, and prioritize and expand the work being done by these agencies and others with respect to pediatric therapeutics.
I would also be curious of any comments you might have on thoughts regarding strengthening the FDA's efforts to protect the unique needs of children with these (orphaned ?) diseases. Again, it's a complicated area. We've spent a lot of time on this committee over the years dealing with those issues of encouraging development by the pharmaceutical industry for medicines and strengthening the efforts -- including even in medical devices for children.
I don't know if you have any thoughts or comments you'd like to share with us on that point.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I think you're absolutely right. And I've had the opportunity to talk with others on the committee who share your concern about this.
And the first part of your question is can we move expeditiously? And I can assure you that we are moving very expeditiously. We hope to build our team of leadership within HHS within the next few weeks. We've been doing aggressive interviewing and soliciting good ideas. And we'd certainly be open to your suggestions about leadership in each one of these important departments.
Secondly, I would say that it's very important -- Senator Burr and I had this conversation the other day about breaking down stovepipes so that the interrelationship between these agencies can do a better job of coordinating the effort.
FDA has an important role, but with regard to much of the research, so does NIH. And with regard to public health, so does CDC. And what we have to do is to make sure that those stovepipes that prevent the kind of cooperative effort and the kind of integration can go forward have to be torn down. And so we're going to make a real effort to coordinate, to integrate and to provide the kind of mission- driven approach to this that will accommodate the goals that you so articulately outlined.
But I think you put your finger on a very important one, and we're going to be working with you to accomplish it.
SEN. DODD: Well, I thank you very much.
And this is a challenging time and I would to commend the president. He couldn't have chosen a better person who can take challenges and handle them not only efficiently and well, but with great courage and leadership. And I can't wait to work with you over the coming several years to get this issue back on track again.
So congratulations to you.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Burr.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): Mr. Chairman, welcome home, because I think this is home for you on this committee and we're glad to see you.
Senator Daschle, welcome. And thank you for your willingness to once again serve in a capacity when asked.
Let me talk about FDA if I can for a minute. For years FDA has been the gold standard of the approval process for drugs, biologics, devices, and I think it's recognized that way around the world. The FDA's struggling today due to lack of funding, low morale, increasingly expanding mission.
I recently heard of a company that had pulled a decision to have their EU approved diabetes drug approved through the FDA because once the FDA designed the clinical trial process they would go through they realized that it was more expensive than the value of the United States market for what was a revolutionary drug for diabetes. That alarms me because they FDA can function and the American people can lose.
Share with me, if you will, how you think we overcome this in the future because I think we both agree that the innovation of drugs and biologic and the devices are part of the key to our ability to control healthcare cost in the future, but also to provide the quality that I think we all want to.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, you ask such a very, very good question Senator Burr. I think I would say that there are four components that will allow us the opportunity to do this right.
The first component is one that you all know extremely well. You have to start with good public policy. We have to know what the policy's going to be and the degree of clarity with regard to what that policy is is critical.
The second is you have to have the resources. And you alluded to the fact that we've had struggles with resources in FDA and elsewhere. And I think we have to address the resource question and we certainly want to work with you with regard to resources.
I think third is leadership. I think we have to show real leadership with regard to priorities and with regard to the kind of motivation of the workforce to do all we can to maximize our opportunities. Once we've set the policy and found the resources we need the leadership to make sure this is going to work right. And I hope we can provide good leadership. And part of it goes to Senator Dodd's question of who it is we're going to find to head up FDA. But all through the Department of Health and Human Services we have to have good leadership.
And then finally, it seems to me, we have to be able to coordinate better. I worry that there's not enough coordination. I worry that the NIH doesn't talk to the FDA, doesn't talk to the CDC, doesn't talk to CMS, and I -- as much as they should. And I think we can, if we're sensitive to that and know that that problem exists, I think we've got to find way to tear down the stovepipes that you and I talked about the other day.
But it seems to me if we did that, if we had those four components in place, that we could really make a difference there. And I hope to work with you to make that happen.
SEN. BURR: Well I thank you for that.
Senator, the Ryan White Care Act is up for reauthorization. I'm curious, do you agree with me that the funding should follow those who are infected with HIV?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I agree with you that the Ryan White Act is -- well, first of all, I'd commend the people on this committee on a bipartisan basis for showing the support and the effort that they've made over the years. And while I think there are differences with regard to how the overall funding ought to be calculated, I generally believe that that direction in funding is appropriate and ought to be respected.
SEN. BURR: I thank you for that.
Senator, I don't want to put you on the spot but you mentioned South Dakota and the rural nature, North Carolina's very much the same. And I think rural states are unique and require certain additions to our thought process for the same level of care to be delivered or the same level of coverage to be delivered.
Medicare Advantage was created to try to provide options in rural markets. Or the way it was designed was with rural markets in mind. Now, the President-Elect has proposed changes to Medicare Advantage. And I would only ask you if you have any comments relative to how -- if you structurally changed Medicare Advantage it would affect South Dakotans ability to have choices for coverage, specifically those seniors under Medicare.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Burr, as you know, in more rural areas we have huge problems relating to access in particular. We have a wonderful infrastructure in place that has come about, in part, because of the support of this committee and community health centers. And I've had the chance to talk with some of you about the role of community health centers in rural America in particular. And I can't tell you how strongly I feel about their import.
We have a real problem, of course, with the IHS and the lack of adequate funding for facilities on Indian Reservations. So we have a serious problem there with regard to access that has to be addressed, both access and quality, in part, because of resources.
I do think that as we look at Medicare Advantage it has provided some support for people in rural areas to the extent that is has, it's been welcome. I think it's become a much more expensive option, unfortunately, 13% more expensive. And I think we have to look at whether or not we're getting our money's worth. The President-Elect has said that he thinks it's important for us to look at the inefficiencies and the problems associated with spending in Medicare Advantage and address them. But it is law. Part C is part of the Medicare program. And I would hope that we could look at Medicare Advantage and Medicare and Medicaid in the larger context of health reform and find ways in which all these programs can be made to work better. And I look forward to working with you on that goal in particular.
SEN. BURR: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Harkin.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and I, again, it's great to see you back as our Chair and it's great to have you back Ted.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you Tom.
SEN. HARKIN: And our colleague, Tom Daschle, again my congratulations, I think, on your taking this over. It's going to be a lot of hard work but there's some really great things that I think we can accomplish.
First of all, let me just thank you so much for your testimony, which I read last night, and the many times that you referred to prevention and the fact that we need to make it sort of the central part. And you mentioned that in your book also, more than once. And you mentioned it in your verbal testimony today.
Senator Mikulski just asked me what I meant about prevention. And I'd like to interchange prevention and wellness. It's not just preventing illness, it's enabling people to stay well.
As Dr. Andrew Weil once said, the body really wants to be healthy. We are engineered over the millennia that our DNA wants us to be healthy, that's the normal state of being of the body yet we interfere with that too many times with what we eat and what we smoke and what we drink and how we don't exercise and all other kinds of things.
And so how do we build the system to change it so we really promote wellness and then supervise it? All the incentives now, in our system as you know Tom, is on patching, fixing, mending, as you have so eloquently said both here today and in your book. But in this area of prevention much of it is not what we think of as being under the health umbrella. I think school based programs, what our kids eat in school, we have the Child Nutrition Bill up again this year. Workplace wellness, community based wellness programs and also one other part and that is mental health. Again you focused on that also. So many times we have found that many of our physical ailments have their genesis in stress, depression, other forms of mental illnesses.
So, I guess my question is, in thinking of all this, how are you kind of focusing on integrating all of this? I mean, you're going to be the head of healthcare reform but a lot of this is not just under that healthcare umbrella. It goes out into transportation, it goes into schools and workplaces, and tax policies and things like that. If you could, just give us, give me some idea of how you see this, you're head of this, coordinating and pulling all of this together so it's not just in Health and Human Services, it's in, as I said, Department of Transportation, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture. All of these different things impact us on whether we're going to be healthy or not. I just -- some idea of how you pull all this together.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Harkin, I -- you've said it very, very well. I think we need to change the paradigm in this country of health. It starts with that big picture belief that the paradigm needs to be changed from illness to wellness. And if we understand this shift in paradigm and the recognition that it's no longer and illness driven system, it's a wellness driven system, it starts to open up the series of considerations that you suggest have to be made that fall way outside the purview of Health and Human Services.
I look at healthcare as a pyramid, in every country, where at the base of the pyramid you have primary care. And you work your way up until you get more and more sophisticated until at the very top you have heart transplants and MRIs. Every country starts at the base of the pyramid with primary care and they work their way up until the money runs out. We start at the top of the pyramid and we work our way down until the money runs out. And the money runs out and so few people get good primary care and wellness. And so we have to change the pyramid. We have to start at the base.
And if we're going to do that, it has to be pervasive, it has to be part of the goal of the Department of Education, the Department of Defense, it has to be the goal of the Department of Commerce, it has to be the goal, in other words, of everyone so that we can market the idea of wellness. And I think in part it's -- partly it's marketing. We've got to be -- you know, wellness has to be cool. And prevention has to be a hot thing, and we've got to make prevention hot and wellness cool. And I think that it's really important for us to build that perception of prevention and wellness in a way that actually is part of all aspects of our lives -- our workplace, our schools, our buildings and finding ways in which to make wellness easier.
And so much of it has to do with nutrition, and no one has spent more -- as chairman of the Agriculture Committee no one has spent more time on nutrition than you have. But it's got to be nutrition. We aren't going to address obesity and prevention and wellness unless we make better school lunches and unless we take the junk food out of schools and unless we put physical exercise back into the school curriculum. Those kinds of things could go a long way to helping us create this new wellness paradigm that we need so badly.
SEN. HARKIN: Wow. Giving that speech were you --
(Cross talk, laughter.)
SEN. HARKIN: Great. Thank you.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Coburn.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Thank you and as with others, welcome back.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you.
SEN. COBURN: It's good to see you looking so well. I can't wait until that thundering voice comes after me on the Senate floor.
SEN. KENNEDY: (Laughs.)
SEN. COBURN: I'll appreciate you being there and Senator Daschle, thank you. I very much enjoyed our conversation yesterday. Appreciate it.
One of the laws that President-elect Obama passed was the Accountability and Transparency Law, and it is a law and it's a mandatory requirement that -- we have a lot of those that agencies don't comply with like improper payments, et cetera. But in my discussions with him, he's very insistent. And I just wanted to get a commitment out of you for the agencies that you work under -- or that work under you that you will be in compliance to make sure that every agency under your authority will in fact monthly submit the data so the American people can see where we're spending money their money and what we're doing both down to the subcontractee and the subgrantee.
MR. DASCHLE: Well Senator Coburn, I couldn't agree more with you and I've had conversations with the president-elect about it. I know that's important to him as it is to you and I will do all I can and I need your help -- if I'm not doing it, I need you to let me know how --
SEN. COBURN: I'll remind you.
MR. DASCHLE: -- I can do it better. Good. (Laughter.)
SEN. COBURN: I just wanted to comment on -- and you and I had this discussion yesterday. One of the reasons prevention doesn't happen in this country is because we don't pay for it. As a matter of fact, in Medicare and Medicaid we've refused to pay for it.
MR. DASCHLE: Right.
SEN. COBURN: We refused to pay for prevention. And so I'm excited that the only way -- our last Medicare trustee report showed just on Medicare alone the infinity cost, unfunded liability was $85 trillion. And the only way we're going to bring that number down is through prevention, preventing chronic disease instead of just treating it. And your pyramid is a very good explanation of where we stand on that.
I would, for your perusal, an editorial today in the Wall Street Journal about Medicaid because I know we're going to be talking in the stimulus package about putting Medicaid dollars in it. It was -- by a former member of an HHS team, Scott Gottlieb talking about the quality that's available in Medicaid and I'd love to see your comments on it because I think there's some significant things.
I also will -- in the time left just want to join with my colleague Senator Burr from North Carolina, we're both highly interested in Ryan White, and last year we made significant changes to where the money is following the epidemic, where African-American women who had been discriminated against by formulas, it is vastly important that those dollars go where the disease is if we're ever to get a true handle on it. And I was glad to hear your response. And I know that's controversial for -- because of some of the programs, but if we're not going to follow the epidemic, then we're going to have another problem later on and it's going to get further out of our control.
One of the other commitments that President-elect Obama made in his campaign -- and he and I have talked -- is a top down review in every agency across the federal government about what's effective, what has metrics on it, what doesn't, how do we measure it, and how do we get rid of the wasteful and duplicate programs. And I guess my question is is, number one, are you committed to do that? Number two, when do you expect to have that finished because in HHS there's a ton of inefficiency, and we all know that. It's not talking about the workers, the workers there are great, but the program -- we designed the programs and we've created the inefficiency. When would you expect to have that completed and would you give us a copy of that so that we can see it as well, because unless we can legislate on it, we're not going to be able to make any impacts for you?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Coburn, I believe that a top-down review is essential; I'd start with that. I think it's very, very important for us to understand what the problems are before we try to make the system better.
I also think that if all of us want to encourage the use of best practices and good comparative research, we ought to start with the institutions themselves and try to apply best practices approaches and management decisions with regard to each one of the departments within HHS. And so I will be very vigorous with regard to the top-down review and frankly, we'd want to do it as expeditiously as possible.
I'm not familiar with the length of time matters like this would normally take, but I will keep you apprised of our progress, and by all means would be more than happy to share with you and members of the committee. I think you should have it because I think most likely if there are issues that are going to have to be addressed, many of them maybe issues that involve statute. And so we'd love to work with you on that but I will certainly keep you apprised of our progress as we go forward.
SEN. COBURN: Mr. Chairman, are we going to have a second round?
SEN. KENNEDY: Yes.
SEN. COBURN: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, I yield back.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much. Senator Mikulski.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD): Senator Kennedy, we truly are so glad to see you back --
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.
SEN. MIKULSKI: -- in that robust voice and the verve and the vigor. And I just want to let you know that Senator Enzi was so kind in his comments about the Higher Ed Act --
SEN. KENNEDY: Yes.
SEN. MIKULSKI: -- and I want you to know Senator Enzi really helped me be able to work on a tri-partisan basis to be able to do that. And Senator Burr was particularly helpful in the minority -- historically black colleges. So we really did work very, very well --
SEN. KENNEDY: Good.
SEN. MIKULSKI: -- together and I want to thank all of our college to do that.
Senator Daschle, it's really with great enthusiasm that we see you. I remember that we once talked about a colleague who had a bit of a swagger and we said he was all hat and no cattle. When I looked at the 67,000 federal employees you have, you have a lot of cattle and now we've got to get you a hat as Secretary of HHS. But I think all of our colleagues know that you bring great intellect and grasp of public policy, a real commitment to the issues. And in working with you as our Democratic leader, I think one of the signatures of your style is collegiality and consultation. And I know that that's going to be a hallmark of how you will work and I believe that's how we'll be able to deliver for the American people.
Let me go right to my questions and talk about the 67,000 employees, many of whom reside in the state of Maryland. And they work at agencies like NIH, 13,000, from fire fighters to protect the public safety of our employees and their research to the Nobel Prize winners and would be there, to FDA, over 4,000 people, to CMS which is there. And I can tell you right now they want to work, and they want to work for change. But what they're so frustrated about is the type of leadership that they have not gotten. And that goes to the question that I have for you. I see the direction as three R's, one to reinvigorate our civil service, to reform the way we do business and for them to have the resources they need to do the job.
Let's go to FDA which we feel, many of us, was one of the most politicized agencies in the federal government. Senator Murray and I worked on many women's health issues. We had things like Dr. Susan Wood being pushed out, we had the Office of Women's Health that I helped create with Senator Olympia Snowe where we had to fight to not only keep it, but when we got it, they put a guy who was a veterinarian in charge of it. We had one battle after another from micro to macro in the safety of our drugs.
So when you look at these agencies and offer the blame the so- called bureaucrats, but I think we have to look at the political leadership that was there and the kind of leadership that they can now expect. How do you see reinvigorating and reforming these science- based agencies?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Mikulski, I've had some real good conversations with people within the department and with others with regard to that very problem.
The first and most important thing is something I said in my statement, which is that I want to reinstate a science-driven environment. I want to take ideology and politics, as much as humanly possible, out of the process and leave the scientists to do their job. And I think it's very important for us to allow scientists to be scientists and to give them the resources to do it right.
And so it starts with that. It starts with the importance of giving them the autonomy they need, without fear of conflict at some point with others along the decision-making process regarding factors having nothing to do with science. And so I think it starts by empowering our scientists to do the great work that we know they can do.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Do you also see establishing -- no, let's go to drug safety and drug efficacy. One is the safety issue. And my question is, have you had a chance to develop a framework, whether you need an independent board to ensure that, how they ensure safety? But then it goes to efficacy.
Now, one of the things in (recent ?) FDA approval is, is the drug effective now? One of the questions is, is the drug that's being proposed more effective than what might be cheaper and already available in the market? Have you had a chance to look at that, or will you wait for your new FDA commissioner to advise you in this?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, we've begun to look at it. But I do believe that this decision-making process has to be very thoughtful, has to be very collaborative, and certainly should involve our leadership within FDA in particular, but also members of this body, this panel in particular, as well.
I think that it's important we come to grips with it and to put an infrastructure in place. And I would certainly love your input and your guidance as we do that. But I want to wait until we have the leadership in place before we make any final decisions.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Well, I'm sure that the transition team is moving very, very -- (inaudible).
I'd like to go to prevention and quality. I chair a working group on quality. The reason I asked about prevention, it's the most often-used phrase and the least understood. Usually prevention means more testing, and we support that. You were a leader in helping us get mammograms for women in your role here, and we appreciate that. But the other issue is also what doctors will say is diet and exercise. And then where does that happen, and how does that happen, and how do we ensure compliance?
My definition of prevention, particularly in the management of chronic disease, is if you have it, it doesn't get worse. So let's take diabetes. You go from insulin-resistant to (perhaps ?) insulin- dependent, which you want to avoid the macro -- excuse me, the microvascular consequences; eye deterioration, vascular deterioration, kidney deterioration.
That comes from good medicine, good medical practice, and diet and exercise. Most doctors will give you a sheet of paper that says, "Here's the diet, and then you need to do more exercise." Then people are on their own. And I wonder how -- so let me get to the question.
One, how do you see, in health insurance reform, if we're going to have medical -- (inaudible) -- move towards compliance, and also move toward broader definition? For example, for -- (inaudible) -- about seniors, much has been said about -- (inaudible). We have the whole Older Americans Act. We have senior centers in every community, which could be tools particularly for a particular population to prevent the further escalation of their chronic condition. And I wonder if that's what you mean by breaking down the stovepipes; and then also this whole idea, if we get health insurance reform, how are we going to have compliance with medical recommendations?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, there's --
SEN. MIKULSKI: And maybe that's a whole other hearing.
MR. DASCHLE: I do think that it's subject to a lot more discussion than we probably have time for this morning. But I think you put your finger on two very important factors here. One is defining our issues as clearly as we can. I think, before we can ever get to the solutions of health care, we have to make sure that we're all on the same page with regard to the problems of health care. And I would hope that we could be of like mind with regard to at least the ideas that many of us have already begun to share on those problems. We have cost problems. We have access problems. But as you rightfully point out in your question, we certainly have quality problems.
And if those are the categories of problems -- cost, access and quality -- how is it that we can build a high-value, high-performance system? Well, it seems to me the only way to do it is to improve access, improve quality and reduce cost. But how do we do that? And that gets to your question, the second part of your question. That takes a framework. And I think we should talk a lot more about how we ought to ensure a proper framework.
I have very strong ideas about it, but I also know that this has to be collaborative. I think there has to be a realization that unless we have a framework, we can talk about policy, but ultimately the implementation of that policy will never come to fruition. We have to have a better integration, more efficiency, far more transparency. And the only way that's going to come is if we can put a framework in place to ensure that the system is administered a whole lot better than it is today.
Now it is administered in small pieces all over, with very little integration. Senator Coburn and I talked last night about interoperability, and that's just one example. We don't have an interoperable system yet. And you can argue how long it'll take to get there.
But it just seems to me it ought to be an embarrassment for this country, in this day and age, that we still don't have an interoperable system when it comes to health insurance technology. And that goes to your point. We need to find a way to make that happen. And I want to work with you to ensure that we make that as high a priority as it deserves to be.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.
We have historically followed the leadership (roll ?) on this committee, so we take advantage of -- and have followed that in the past, just so that we let our colleagues know, which would on our side have Senator Murkowski next and then Senator Hatch, in that order. And we'll follow that order in this committee as well.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I had to consult with my colleague. I appreciate that, Mr. Chairman.
And Senator Daschle, welcome. I appreciate the time that you gave me the other evening as we discussed issues as it relates to health care and some of the most vulnerable in our society. We talked about the situations with American Indians, Alaska natives, and their health care status. So, again, I appreciate your time. I appreciate your willingness to serve in this capacity.
One of the issues that comes to me as I go back home to Alaskans is the issue of access, and both of us coming from rural states where we don't have the number of health care providers that I think we would like to have for our constituents. We share the same concerns.
But what we're seeing in my state of Alaska with Medicare- eligible individuals and their ability to see a doctor in the largest city in the state of Alaska, to know that there were no doctors that were willing to take on new Medicare patients, really all of a sudden it became not just somebody else's problem, but it was a problem for people everywhere throughout the state.
And we have been working to deal with that in just kind of little bits and pieces, but nothing that is really making that difference. And I have constituents who are coming to me and saying, "We would rather forgo the Medicare benefits that we have paid into for years and instead purchase private coverage just so that I can get in to see a doctor. I just need to be able to see a doctor."
What are we going to do about a Medicare system that is failing our seniors in many areas, when they can't get in to see anyone? What is it that we can do? I know that there are some suggestions out there that would broaden the scope of the Medicare coverage, including individuals between 55 and 64. Do you believe that Medicare is sustainable enough to bring more enrollees into the program? Speak to me a little bit about Medicare, and specifically what it means to those of us in rural states where we just have such a shortage, incredible shortage, of providers.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Murkowski, you've spoken with real passion about it. And I can understand that passion, because anybody from the West can identify completely with your very apt description of our circumstances.
I think access is a function of many different factors. And obviously, as you rightfully suggest, Medicare is a big part of and a very pervasive part of this situation. We (almost ?) understate the problem of access if all we do is limit it to the number of uninsured, because we have a real access problem when it comes to mental health in this country. There are so few mental health providers in South Dakota. Mental health is oftentimes overlooked in so many ways, in part because it's not been given the priority it deserves.
And thanks to extraordinary efforts by the chairman and members of this Committee, who are beginning to build the kind of parity with regard to mental health that's so critical.
But access to mental health care in rural areas is almost non- existent, in some cases. Access to dental care is a real problem.
And so it's a function of Medicare in part, but I think it's a far more universal challenge, and I think there are four things that I would suggest we consider, to begin to start addressing this issue.
One is to encourage, in as many ways as possible, more primary care providers. I'd like to go back to the National Health Service Corps to see what we can do to encourage larger numbers of National Health Service Corps providers --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: We can start by funding that.
MR. DASCHLE: Funding -- funding is a good way to start, and the resources in that regard would be very helpful.
Encouraging students, as we change this paradigm from illness to wellness, and encouraging students to come back into primary care. And good -- and to be willing to be the kind of family practitioners that ought to be the anchor, the basis upon which our health care system is built, is the second thing.
I think we ought to use our alternative providers -- and I don't really like that term, but the providers -- the nurses, the nurse practitioners, the physicians' assistants -- far more effectively. Pharmacists can play a far more important role than then. That, to me, is a very important part.
And then, as we talked, I think we can do a lot more with HIT, especially in rural areas. We need to encourage better broadband access and far more utilization of services provided through HIT.
But all through this, Medicare could be --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: (Inaudible.)
MR. DASCHLE: -- the beneficiary of that effort, and I hope we can make that happen.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have pages and hours more questions, but I will defer until next round.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Murray.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and it is wonderful to see you back, as well. And I am delighted that you're going to be leading us as we head into a very important health care discussion and, hopefully, move legislation this year. It's great -- (inaudible).
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.
SEN. MURRAY: Senator Daschle, welcome. And I am delighted that you are taking on this agency. Congratulations on the nomination on this. I look forward to working with you.
Your passion has been shown to this Committee, we know, for many, many years. This has been -- these are the issues that really drive you personally, and I'm delighted you're going to be at the realm (sic) as we really take on some incredible challenges over the coming years on health care and all the other issues that you will be facing.
You've heard a lot of people talk to you about access. You talked about it in your opening statement. You talked about the lack of providers, particularly primary care physicians.
I've been holding a number of hearings in my state to talk about the lack of health care providers that are out there. And there is a direct correlation with cost. If there isn't a doctor to go to or nurses available, it drives up the cost of health care. And it isn't just doctors; it's nurses and -- the vast array of health care providers.
When you go back to young people in high school who are going to -- hopefully going to these professions, very few of them know about these professions and begin to prepare in a right way to go into those fields.
So I wanted to ask you, as we look at health care reform, in whatever form it comes to us, is there a way to incorporate going out and bringing more people into the health care professions, showing them the paths that they need to get into it, and making sure that we focus on making sure we have enough providers in the vast array of health care that's out there?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Murray, I think you ask a very, very important question. And I think it starts with sort of a realization that our system works through incentives.
Right now, there's a great deal of incentive to become a sub- specialist. The reimbursement system, as an incentive, is one that clearly incentivizes sub-specialties. I'd like to see the day when we incentivize, in the same way, our primary care providers, our nurses.
I'd like to see incentivization of a wellness system all the way through, from providers, through institutions, (there's ?) our clinics. I think that, in part, is how this is going to happen, is the incentivization that will have to occur. And there's no better opportunity for us to do it than with health reform.
But it can't just be that. I think we also have to encourage that the providers themselves be incentivized, and that seems, to me, to suggest that we put more emphasis on scholarships for primary care providers, more emphasis on forgiveness of college costs for primary care providers, finding ways to say look, if you take this route, we're going to be with you. We're going to be a partner with you. We're going to try to find ways to ensure that you have the financial wherewithal to become that front-line physician, or that front-line provider that we need.
And so we need to send that message and, it seems to me, payment reform and tuition assistance are two powerful tools to do it and to incentivize in a way that could make this system begin to turn around.
SEN. MURRAY: Well, I really look forward to working with you on that. I, obviously, heard a lot about primary care physicians, but it was anything from therapists to somebody to read the mammogram.
MR. DASCHLE: Exactly.
SEN. MURRAY: And we have got to incentivize those and create this.
We're looking to create jobs; we've got to really focus on that, and I think you've outlined some great ways to do that. So I look forward to being a partner with that.
One of the other issues that affects costs is -- and I know Senator Murkowski shares this view -- is the way we reimburse physicians today under Medicare, with the sustainable growth rate, is an outdated system that basically incentivizes people, using patient utilization, rather than looking at healthy outcomes for reimbursement.
This is an issue I know you and I've talked about when you were leader, and frustrated with it because it was impacting a lot of physicians in our state who were no longer seeing Medicare patients because of the reimbursement, trying to make it more fair, trying to focus on health outcomes.
Is this something that you're going to be focusing on as well?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I couldn't feel more strongly that the SGR system isn't -- just isn't working right. We're in the middle of it right now, as you know. We have to come up with some sort of an answer to the expiration of the current authorization this year.
And I can recall being in your shoes on countless occasions, and saying I don't really have a clue what the SGR should be. (Chuckles.) I'm going to listen to the experts, and I'm certainly going to pay attention to my staff.
But at the end of the day, I don't know that it makes a whole lot of sense for you to be put in that position over and over and over again. It's as hot a political position as you're ever going to get, and even if you get beyond the politics and the pressures, you still have to -- do I have the wherewithal to make these decisions on a routine basis?
We need to come up with a better system administration, and I'm hopeful that we can do that as we look at health reform.
SEN. MURRAY: And I hope we look at it not as reimbursing based on utilization, but rather based on healthy outcomes.
MR. DASCHLE: Absolutely. Healthy outcomes and -- I don't think we ought to base it on a procedure-by-procedure approach. I think it ought to be episodic.
I'd like to see us look at sort of the larger issue and encourage, as you say, better outcomes. And I'm not one who supports the so-called performance-based approach, but I do believe that there are episodic ways with which to look at reimbursement that give us a lot more latitude to incent, again, if I can use that term, better outcomes and lower cost and far less hassle for providers.
SEN. MURRAY: Very good. And my time is up, but thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Hatch.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Glad to see you there and look forward to working with you in this -- coming months and years.
Senator Daschle, it's great to have you back. Nice to have you here. And I'm particularly appreciative of Linda for allowing you to do this gut-busting job -- (chuckles) -- because it's going to be a tough job. But it's really important, and I think you can do it well, and I intend to support you.
But there are a lot of areas where I think there's consensus. For instance, your ideas on nationwide health information technology infrastructure and giving every American an electronic -- health record.
Your emphasis on preventive care, I think that's important. And, of course, the national problem of childhood obesity, as well as -- adult obesity as well. Increased access to health care for rural areas, certainly underserved areas, mainly through community health centers.
This Committee is a very strong committee with regard to implementing and helping community health centers, because I think they do a terrific job at a reasonable cost, compared to so many other things.
And of course you've indicated a desire to try and resolve some of the medical liability problems as well, because we know that's driving an awful lot of the costs. Anybody who's ever worked in that area, and I have, understands that. So these are all very, very important things.
But if I could just mention a couple of things, members of this Committee have become increasingly concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance. And a number of bills were introduced during the 110th Congress, including a bill by Senator Brown and myself entitled Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance, or what we call the STAAR Act.
Now, I am interested in hearing your thoughts about this basic topic, because in the STAAR Act, Senator Brown and I have suggested a rather holistic approach to the problem of antibiotic resistance and establish -- we would establish a network of experts across the country to conduct regional monitoring of resistant organisms as they occurred, sort of like a snapshot, to pick up on problems early.
Now, would you agree that it is important that we augment CDC's current surveillance system with some sort of expert system as well?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Hatch, I, first of all, want to commend you and Senator Brown for your outstanding work here. This is not an area for which there is a great deal of history and prior attention. So the fact that you have dedicated your time and effort to ensuring that we begin to put a policy in place is one that is recognized and appreciated.
And I share your view that this is something that really does deserve a national framework within which we can begin to put the kind of attention and priority that it deserves.
I don't have any particular, definitive solution today, but I really would be very interested in working with you and accommodating your larger goals and in accomplishing this in the not-too-distant future. There's a tremendous need for greater thought, greater work, greater research. And I'd like to work in partnership with you to make that happen.
SEN. HATCH: Well, thank you. In 1984, Congress passed the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act. I know a bit about that, by the way. And I've maintained my strong support of a generic drug industry over the years because it helped to create -- I think, at that time we were lucky to have 18 percent of the industry in the form of generic drugs. Today, it's two-thirds, so it has helped bring down costs an average of $10 billion a year, every year since 1984, and more today.
But let me just say this. Since two-thirds of today's prescriptions -- at least, that's the estimate -- are generic, I think this is a good measure indicating that the law has abundant benefit for American consumers. And it not only guarantees patients that these drug copies are safe and effective, it guarantees generic manufacturers that their applications will be reviewed within 180 days. And it guarantees innovators that scientific experts, who determine the products, are bio-equivalent.
Unfortunately, a question has been raised about whether each of these is true. And this is something I think you gotta get into. And a big part of the problem seems to be that the Office of Generic Drugs has become the poor stepsister to the Office of New Drugs which receives a guaranteed funding stream through user fees and appropriations.
And as a result, the Office of Generic Drugs has suffered from inadequate funding and erosion of their scientific base and declining morale due to funding constraints as well as disruptions caused by the now-stalled move (to wido ?) which is very important for me as well.
By the agency's own admission last year, quote, "It is still difficult to keep base, both with incoming applications and with other matters requiring OGD resources, such as citizen petitions -- (inaudible) -- challenging the approval of generic drugs and providing a guidance to the industry," unquote. So I'm concerned that we may have a system here that is broken.
And I would like you to really take some time when you get there to look that over and see what you can do because this is a really, really important area of health care that I think you'll take a great deal of job in helping to maintain and make even better.
My time is up. And I appreciate you allowing me this little extra time, Mr. Chairman.
But I intend to support you. I think you'll make a great secretary of Health and Human Services. And I intend to support you after you're there as well. So just stay close, and I hope that I can be of help to you.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, thank you very much, Senator Hatch. If I could just respond, because I think your point about generic drugs is so important. As we look to ways in which to bring down costs, I am absolutely convinced that a big part of that effort, if it's going to be done successfully, will be determined by the degree to which generic drugs are allowed to play the role that it can.
And so the Office of Generic Drugs needs to be supported and financed. It needs to be given the kind of priority and empowerment that it deserves. And I would really like to work very closely with you to ensure that a mutual goal we would have with regard to generic drugs is realized.
So thank you for your support and, especially, for your leadership on that issue.
SEN. HATCH: Thank you so much.
SEN. KENNEDY: Very good. Thank you very much.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And it's great to see you there with your chairmanship. And (I believe with this ?) Cabinet position, we are on the road to health care reform, I believe. It's a long road, but this is encouraging.
First, let me say, the president made a very wise choice. And I personally, again, want to thank you for your help and friendship as I'm particularly a new member here in this body.
I was very encouraged when you spoke to Senator Murray about the answers on primary care and the development of primary care physicians. One of the components of health care reform has to be to significantly increase our base of primary care physicians, nurses, et cetera. Title VII, as you are aware, of the (relevant ?) act provides for resources to help do this, but it is chronically underfunded.
As you grapple with health care reform, you're also grappling with the budget, so good luck on both matters. But if you could pay particular attention to Title VII, that would be very appreciated.
In a similar vain, Section 317 of the CDC's program on immunization is so important. It's been estimated that we need to provide about 1.1 billion (dollars) to cover all the recommended vaccines to eligible children and, frankly, we provide less than half of that. So that, I think, is another priority. And the estimates are staggering in terms of the savings. For every dollar we spend here, we collectively save $16.50. It's one of those -- in fact, it's one of the great (problems ?) of public health over the last 100 years, vaccination.
So if you'd like to comment, I would appreciate it, Senator.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I think this is the first time immunization has come up in the hearing. And I applaud you, Senator Reed, for raising it. Immunization is probably as sound an investment as we can make in good health. I can't imagine that we could do any better than ensure that every child is immunized and that we understand the importance of broad-based immunization and the tremendous good health that can come from it.
But I think that at various times in the past, while we've certainly been supportive rhetorically, we haven't been supportive through resources. And I think it's critical, as you know, that we put the resources where they belong, in the best investments in health, and certainly immunization is one of them.
SEN. REED: Well, thank you, Senator. You, in response to Senator Kennedy, talked about your listening tour across the country. And you know, here, often it comes down to 317 and .12 billion and x and y and z. But for people across the country, it's much more personal. I wonder if you have an anecdote you'd like to share, which, for you, encapsulates sort of the situation in the country and the most, sort of impressive comment that you heard out there on the trail.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, I heard just extraordinary stories about people who understood the economic circumstances that they had were so directly related to the health circumstances they were facing. The stories of personal bankruptcy are the ones that come back to me so frequently. The stories of people who were hardworking people, hardworking and cared so deeply for their country and their families, who were virtually thrown out in the street because they couldn't cope with the extraordinary expense of staying well.
And I must say, as a society, as a country, how in the world can we allow in the year 2009 for us to say, you know, that's just the way life is? How can we possibly say to those people that there's not a better way?
You know, so it seems to me it's those extraordinary, gripping stories of personal collapse as a result of the fact that we have not come up with a health care system that allows people to get sick, in many cases, without total economic destruction. They're the ones that have had such an incredible impact on me. And they'll be the ones I'll remember as we go through this year.
SEN. REED: Again, thank you, Mr. Leader. And I'll look forward to your leadership in the Department of Health and Human Services.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you very much, Senator Reed.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you, Jack Reed. I don't think I've heard an explanation as clear and as passionate as we heard from Jack Reed on the general need, the overall need about health care reform. So I thank him very much for his statement. And Tom Daschle's response on it was, I thought, enormously moving and really very helpful to our committee.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-CT): Thank you, Senator Kennedy, and welcome back. We need your leadership at this moment.
And Tom, it's great to see you here. I look forward to working with you when you are the secretary.
When you go last in a long line of questions, it's hard to come up with anything brilliant or (moving ?), but I'll try. (Laughter.)
Last year, legislation was introduced, which had 12 cosponsors, including Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, Senator Clinton and I suspect many of us, Senator Mikulski, which essentially would deal with an issue you heard a lot about today, and that is take a program that Senator Kennedy developed some 40 years ago, which has widespread, bipartisan support -- you heard Senator Hatch talk about it, Senator Byrd talk about it, President Clinton, President Bush has been very supportive -- and that is the Federally Qualified Health Center program.
And what that legislation would do -- also supported by Barack Obama, who used to sit right here, first co-sponsor -- it would go from $2 billion a year that we're currently spending, 1,100 Community Health Centers, to 34 Community -- 3,400 Community Health Centers essentially providing quality health care, dental care, low-cost prescription drugs, mental health counseling to every American in an underserved area.
You go from $2 billion to $8 billion; you expand the National Health Service Corps; and you know what happens? You save money. All of the studies indicate that by allowing people to come to a doctor, rather than going to the emergency room or go into the hospital, you save money.
Here's my question: Will you be supportive of the concept of significantly expanding the Community Health Centers, with bipartisan support, so that every American has access to a doctor or a dentist?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Sanders, you speak so passionately about this, and I share your passion if not your eloquence. And I strongly support the goal and will work very, very closely with you to see how closely we can come. I'd like to see if we could even surpass that goal. But, I'm with you, and would be very, very excited about the prospect of a partnership that would allow us to accomplish it while I'm there.
SEN. SANDERS: Would you agree that spending that money -- that amount of money, so that we quadruple the number of Community Health Centers, would actually save Medicare money, Medicaid money and our health care system money. That it is --
MR. DASCHLE: No question. No question.
SEN. SANDERS: So can we count on your support --
MR. DASCHLE: Absolutely.
SEN. SANDERS: -- to move us in that direction. We are tying to get some money in the stimulus package to help Community Health Centers. Is that something you can be supportive of?
MR. DASCHLE: I can't speak to the stimulus package because it isn't completed yet, but I'm certainly supportive of putting it in every economic vehicle we have. I think there is economic stimulus to be had there, and while I will be enthusiastically supportive of the package, whether it's in stimulus or something else, the sooner we can get it done, the better.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. I was glad to hear you mention the crisis in dental care as well, because sometimes when we talk about health care we forget the reality that millions and millions of Americans, especially in the rural areas, can't find a dentist.
Let me bring back the issue -- I think Jack Reed raised it as well, and others, the need to substantially increase funding for the National Health Service Corps so that we can get dentists and doctors into medically underserved areas. Is that something you would be supportive of?
MR. DASCHLE: I think Senator Mikulski and I talked a little bit about that as well. But, you're absolutely right. We have been the beneficiaries, in South Dakota, of the National Service Corps -- on the Reservations, in particular, but also off the Reservations. And I think it's a tremendous investment.
We need to provide the kind of funding, and to encourage the participation in National Health Service Corps that we've seen at times in the past. And I'd love to work with you to make that happen.
SEN. SANDERS: Thank you.
And you mentioned dental care. We will work aggressively to increase the number of dentists in this country. We probably need more dental schools. But we have a "graying" of the dental profession. We need to encourage more young people to get in there. Is that something you would be willing to work on?
MR. DASCHLE: Absolutely. We need to do that. We need that, in particular, in rural areas. We're having a real hard time with dentists, as we are, as I said earlier, with mental health care providers in rural areas. But, that has to be a priority.
SEN. SANDERS: Let me quickly change gear, move out of health care to a crisis that we don't talk enough about -- about enough here. And that is, we have 18 percent of our children living in poverty, which, as you may know, is the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. At the same time, we have more people in jail than any other country in the world, including China.
We spend $50,000 a year to put people in jail, and yet millions of working families do not have access to quality child care or preschool education. Would you make the needs of our kids, and significantly improving the disastrous child care situation in America, one of your priorities?
MR. DASCHLE: Absolutely. As I said earlier to another question, I believe in that slogan that "it's so much easier to build a child than to repair an adult." And I think we ought to get about building children -- building the next leadership in this country, and I'd love to work with you to make that happen.
SEN. SANDERS: Okay. Thank you very much.
Mr. Chairman, thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank all of you very much.
I'd like to -- if there are other members, or other members would like to make a -- ask a question, we'd welcome their participation now.
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R-CO): Well, Mr. Chairman, there are a lot of additional questions. I'd ask if it would be possible to submit them, and get a prompt response --
SEN. KENNEDY: Sure. We'll --
SEN. ALLARD: -- before the committee makes its decision.
SEN. KENNEDY: We'll submit them, and have them a part of the record.
SEN. ALLARD: We do -- I do appreciate the answers that we've gotten today, and look forward to the same cooperative spirit, and look forward to a quick confirmation so that we can get Senator Daschle in place doing the job that we need done.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.
Senator Enzi, if you'd just withhold. We're going to hear -- a few of our colleagues here had asked for a few more minutes to be able to complete their thoughts.
SEN. DODD: Well, Mr. Chairman , I don't have any additional questions. There are a lot more questions, obviously, with any of the -- as Tom pointed out, we could really have hearings on almost every question that's been raised this morning. There all deeply significant and important -- the magnitude of the problem.
It also speaks in a way to us -- how we have to think about reorganizing ourselves up here, something we're not likely to do in the short-term. But there's so many areas of overlapping jurisdiction, and dealing with a stovepipe analysis, as you brought up -- you talk about Senator Byrd talking about our ability to get our arms around all of this, given the bifurcated structure we deal with up here makes it very difficult.
It's not a problem, obviously, you're going to be able to address. With the time, maybe we might have -- different role you played.
I just want to make two points that I thought were very important that you raised today. There were a lot of thing you said that were tremendously helpful. I think you're giving us a sense of your appreciation of the problem. One is the de-politicalization (sic), in a sense, of science. That will go a long way, in my view, of building -- rebuilding public trust in our agencies. And I think that that was a major factor in a loss of confidence, among many people, in our agencies dealing with this very important issue that affects so many millions of our fellow citizens. And I think it will go a long way towards creating that environment here that allow us to get a job done, as you point out, on a bipartisan fashion, which has been a hallmark of this committee -- under Senator Kennedy's leadership, I might point out, over the years.
The reason we've been successful with legislative efforts is because we've got a chairman that has always reached across that aisle to build relationships, as Senator Enzi pointed out, on areas of common interest where you can develop common agendas. So, I thank you for that.
And secondly, the mental health issues. And, again, Senator Kennedy, Senator Domenici, Paul Wellstone -- who valiantly fought, as did Pete Domenici, and of course Senator Kennedy, for years on mental health issues. And while it got lost in all the economic debates on the floor -- in fact, the very day that we passed the Economic Stabilization Act, mental health parity was actually a part of that bill.
I suspect that under different circumstances that would have been the banner headline. But, because it was the economic issues, it got lost a bit. But, it was a major step forward for our country -- huge step forward. And your commitments to working on that, expanding -- it affects so many other aspects of what we talked about here today. This is not just another area of health care, it is one that absolutely reaches into every other issue that has been raised.
And so I'm particularly pleased, Tom, about your commitment to this -- to that issue; that we not just let this lie there now as an accomplishment of a Congress, but now becomes part of that seamless effort of ours to provide that universal care for our fellow citizens. So, I am very excited about your nomination. And I'm hopeful, as well, as Senator Enzi pointed out, we can deal with this quickly, get you on the job and roll up our sleeves and go to work on this most critical issue. Congratulations.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you very much, Chris.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Harkin.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much again, Mr. Chairman, and, again, this has been a great hearing.
And the kind of attitudes, philosophy you're bringing to this job is -- it's just refreshing. There are just two areas I just wanted to cover with you very briefly, Tom. I would be remiss if I had left this room and didn't bring up with you the area of -- concerning people with disabilities in our health care system.
Too often they fall through the cracks. Too often they go, and doctors don't really know how to treat them. There's not that much instruction in our medical schools on how to treat people with disabilities. Dentists don't know how to do this. We really need to focus a lot in that area.
Secondly, in your book you wrote the Medicaid, quote, "is fundamentally geared toward institutional care, even though most elderly people prefer to receive care at home or in more personalized community settings." I've expanded it to say "also people with disabilities -- with significant disabilities." Right now Medicaid has to pay for institutional care for a person with disability. But if they're going to live at home, or in a community-based setting, Medicaid doesn't have to pay for that.
And in between that we had the Olmstead decision, in which the Supreme Court said emphatically that it is a Constitutional right of a person with a disability to have the least restrictive environment. And so, I guess my question is, can I count on you to support what call now -- it's called the Community Choice Act. It used to be called MiCASA, I won't get into that.
By the way, I will mention that the first person to introduce this in the House of Representatives was Newt Gingrich, by the way, back in the '90s. We've been trying for years to get this done. In other words, to provide that a person with a disability can use that money, that Medicaid money, for their own choice, where they want to live -- their own home, their own community-based setting. And so, I would hope that we could ask for your help and your support in that effort.
MR. DASCHLE: Well, Senator Harkin, you've been the leader, and you've been the incredible voice of reason and passion when it comes to disabilities and the disability community. I have learned a lot in listening to you for many, many years.
I think that providing as high a quality of life as we can guarantee is a critical goal for us, as we look at health reform, and as it pertains especially to the disability community.
I have learned a lot in listening to you for many, many years. I think that providing as high a quality of life as we can guarantee is a critical goal for us as we look at health reform and as it pertains especially to the disability community. Providing them with choice is a part of that quality of life and so I will work with you to see that we get that done and move in that direction, recognizing the importance.
You know, long term care today is as much a function of serving the disabled as it is serving the elderly. But it ought to be the choice of the disability community as to where they would like to get their care and to live their lives. And so you've voiced that concern and that vision and I'd like to work with you to make sure that it's realized.
SEN. HARKIN: I appreciate it, Tom, and just very much. And lastly, I walked into a clinic in Carroll, Iowa and I think I saw the future. It's a small clinic in a small town and when you walk in the doors, all electronic record keeping. And under one roof they have MD, DOs, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, psychologists, and maybe a few others that I don't --
SEN. DODD: Dentist, I've been to that place.
SEN. HARKIN: Oh yeah. They have dentists -- (laughter) -- There isn't a place you haven't been.
SEN. HARKIN: But this leads to the whole area of integrative medicine. There are people out there like Dr. Dean Ornish(sp) and Dr. Andrew Wile(sp) and Dr. Mark Hime(sp) and these are all MDs but they've all been, promoters of bringing together integrative medicine and all the different types of things and a lot of these do lend itself to prevention and wellness. And so I hope that you will look for some way to set up a team or a process or something in your office of health care reform that will bring these very knowledgeable practitioners in. I just mentioned those three because I -- there's a lot of others out there, too -- but to set up some kind of a process where we can look at integrating medicine also in health care reform.
MR. DASCHLE: Well you mentioned some of the finest places in health that I know and I respect them a great deal as you do. I have long advocated this notion of a medical home, and I think integrated care is all about providing efficient care and improved quality at lower cost. And that's what you probably saw in that particular facility. But we ought to take that model and models like it and make sure that that is the standard by which we judge how well we're integrating, how well we're improving the quality in this high performance system in the future. So it's fun to see those. I've been in a few myself and it's just, you can see what can be done and what can happen if this integration is made as effectively as they apparently have.
So I'd love to work with you on it.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much, Tom. Look forward to working with you.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you, Tom.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Sanders.
SEN. SANDERS: Thank you Senator Kennedy.
Senator Daschle, one of the issues that I hear a lot of concern about in Vermont and I expect all over the country is Medicare Part D. A, it is extraordinarily confusing -- I mean literally I have heard from people who have PhDs that don't quite know how to define the insurance policy that they need. Will you work with some of us in several areas? Number one, to do away with the donut hole which is very costly now for many seniors who go over the click and then have to pay 100 percent out of their own pocket; and B, will you help us save money by allowing Medicare to begin negotiating with the drug companies, rather than paying far higher prices, say, than the Veteran's Administration?
MR. DASCHLE: Well the answer is yes, I would like very much to be able to address the donut hole; it's one of the bigger financial challenges that we face with regard to the program. It's a very expensive fix and we'll have to work together to see how we find solutions to that.
I also think that the more we can continue to find innovative ways of which to bring down the cost of drugs, and I think that as we look at those innovative ways, given the secretary the negotiating authority is one of those ways that ought to be evaluated and looked at. I think that there's a great deal to be said for that. I've supported it in the past and I'd support it in the future.
SEN. SANDERS: On a related issue, a number of years ago I took a number of my constituents -- we live on the Canadian border -- over the Canadian border to purchase medicine in Montreal. And many of the people were women who were dealing with breast cancer and they bought a drug called tomoxetin for a fraction of the price they were paying in the United States. And many of us for years have been trying to grapple with the issue of why Americans are forced to pay by far the highest prices in the world for the same exact prescription drugs. And one of the solutions that some of us have come up with is the idea of prescription drug re-importation.
Will you work with those of us who think that in fact Americans should be able to purchase safe FDA-approved medicine from other countries where the prices are substantially lower than they are in the United States?
MR. DASCHLE: Well, you put your finger on I think the most important aspect of this effort which is to ensure that the confidence and the safety of the drugs wherever they may come from. Many of our drugs today are manufactured abroad, and imported as domestic product even though they're manufactured abroad. And so some consistent policy with regard to the manufacture and the sale of all of our drugs I think is in order, and I'd love to work with this committee and certainly with you, Senator Sanders, to make sure that we come up with the best policy to do just that.
SEN. SANDERS: Okay. Senator Daschle, thank you very much.
MR. DASCHLE: Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Let me just have a final word about a couple of areas that we haven't really given it -- much attention to. One is the NIH, the importance of the NIH and the difference that it is making today in the whole area of progress in terms of all the forms of health care and it is doing just an extraordinary job. We didn't -- we mentioned the mental health and as you know we passed recently the Mental Health Parity Act, which was an extraordinary -- extraordinarily important for people across this country. It's been referenced during the course of the morning. But I just want to underline that for you.
We didn't also talk about really FDA, and that's just enormously important. We in the Congress have not given it the attention, the focus and this is an enormously important agency that has been really left out in terms of recognition and in terms of the references here during the course of the hearing. But just really the importance of that.
And just finally genetic -- the importance of genetic discrimination. We passed legislation recently in that and the hearings that we had prior to the acceptance of that legislation reminded us all about the importance of that.
I think I won't take up the time and going through those areas but maybe you'd submit a comment on those I mean.
And just finally I think from this morning it's -- as you can see the enormous interest of the members of this committee on all of these items, you know, that we have on health care. We know we have a division in terms of between our committees and we want to work with all of our colleagues to make sure we accommodate those interests, but you do get a sense about the depth and breadth of the concerns that the members of this committee have and the great desire to work with you. I mean, this has been an extraordinary hearing this morning and you must take away a sense of satisfaction that the desire of the members of this committee to work closely with you. And also a recognition of the enormous contribution that you've already made in this health care area and how all of us on this committee -- and I know I in this instance speak for Senator Enzi how all of us want to work very closely.
And I guess in conclusion I want to thank Senator Enzi again for all of his courtesies for us on this committee and the desire to look forward to working with him as well as all the members of our committee in the days ahead.
So if there's no further business, we'll stand in recess.