A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to appoint former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a decision that has attracted both criticism keyed to Daschle's lobbyist connections as well as praise from industry experts who see the selection as a sign of Obama's commitment to healthcare reform.

Daschle's selection as the next secretary of HHS was reported Wednesday by various news sources, but an official announcement has not yet been made.

"This would be a great nomination by President-Elect Obama," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) in a statement. He added that Daschle "knows healthcare, he knows the Congress and the rhythms of the Senate in particular."

"I met today with my Finance and HELP Committee colleagues to talk about moving forward on comprehensive health reform in the next Congress, and we agreed that action cannot wait," Baucus said. "Having Senator Daschle at HHS and as the point person for the Obama administration on healthcare would only improve the chances of success."

The Senate Finance Committee is responsible for the confirmation of the HHS secretary, and for oversight of Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance program, and other federal health programs.

The Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed; Washington) also showed its support for Daschle as the next secretary of HHS.

"He has a breadth and depth of experience and a commitment to healthcare issues that will prove invaluable in leading this crucial department," said Stephen Ubl, president/CEO of AdvaMed. He added that the group looks forward to working with Daschle as the debate on healthcare reform proceeds.

"We are committed to ensuring that reform provides affordable, quality insurance for all and recognizes the importance of medical innovation," Ubl said. "The medical technology industry creates the new diagnostic tests, treatments and cures that bring help and hope to millions of patients and their families every day."

But before he is officially given the job, Daschle could face questions about his lobbyist connections. His wife, Linda Hall Daschle, is widely known as one of Washington's top lobbyists.

According to a Washington Post report, Linda Daschle, a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, primarily lobbies for aerospace and airline industry clients, but has worked for some healthcare-related firms in the past. However, The Post also reported that she is set to leave the firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz to open her own shop in January, focusing on transportation.

Daschle's return to government would be a vindication of sorts. He was the Senate Democratic leader when he was defeated in 2004 by Republican John Thune, who persuaded South Dakota voters that Daschle was more concerned with Washington than with them.

Daschle did in fact stay in Washington after his defeat, becoming a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle does not lobby himself, but his firm has a lobbying arm with healthcare clients, including Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, Illinois).

It also has been reported that Daschle, who will turn 61 in December, was a close adviser to Obama throughout his White House campaign. He recently wrote a book on his proposals to improve healthcare: "Critical: What We Can Do About The Health Care Crisis." He also has been working with former Senate leaders on recommendations to expand health coverage, the Associated Press reported.

According to Daschle's book, his solution to the healthcare crisis lies in the Federal Reserve Board. "A Fed-like health board would offer a public framework within which a private healthcare system can operate more efficiently and effectively insulated from political pressure yet accountable to elected officials and the American people."

Obama is quoted on the cover of the book, saying, "Sen. Daschle brings fresh thinking to this problem and his Federal Reserve for Health concept holds great promise for bridging this intellectual chasm and at long last, giving this nation the healthcare it deserves."

As news reports emerged earlier this week about Daschle's nomination for the HHS job, Republicans took shots not only at his lobbyist connections, but also at his strong Washington ties. Alex Conant, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement, "For voters hoping to see new faces and fewer lobbyist connections in government, Daschle's nomination will be another disappointment."