By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, said Thursday that solutions to American health care issues shouldn't come from the "top down," but should be born at the state level from doctors, nurses and administrators.

"Too often we look to the federal government for solutions," Thompson said during his address at the second annual Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) conference held here. "President Bush and Health and Human Services seek to work with the states to solve some of these problems with health care."

Thompson is the former governor of Wisconsin who is credited with developing and implementing a welfare-to-work program that is being used as a model by other states. He said that just as states succeeded in overhauling welfare, they can succeed in reforming the health care system. "Welfare reform was a state invention, but some at the federal level have decided to take credit for it. Since it was implemented, welfare rolls have dropped in half."

In one of his first moves as secretary, Thompson carried out Bush's order to delay implementation of the medical privacy rules approved in the waning days of the Clinton administration. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 27, 2001.)

Critics of the rules said they would drain the health care system of $18 billion over 10 years, but supporters balked, saying the rules would actually save the system billions of dollars through streamlining regulations and billing practices.

No one disagrees that the Clinton administration had the interests of patients at heart when it crafted rules aimed at giving patients more control over their medical records while placing stiffer penalties on health plans, Internet web sites and other organizations that distribute medical information without consent.

But unfortunately, Thompson said, "The rules have become incredibly complex and that's why we wanted the extension, so we could take a look at them. We don't want to implement regulations that are burdensome."

The extension will run 30 days.

"I don't pretend to have all the answers," Thompson said. "Now is the time for doctors, nurses and administrators to sit down and work these problems out before they spin out of control."

Spreading his boss's message, Thompson said President Bush is striving to resolve health care problems - first by introducing "Helping Hand," a four-year plan that would create block grants for states with drug subsidy programs dispensing $12 billion annually for low-income Medicare patients. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 31, 2001.)

Critics say Bush's proposal eventually would help fewer than one in 20 of the 37 percent of all seniors who lack prescription drug insurance coverage.

Nevertheless, Thompson said the Bush administration is on the right track and has brought a new attitude to Washington, one that does not place undue burdens on individuals or businesses.

He cited Bush's commitment to health care as evidenced by his proposed 13.8 percent increase in the National Institutes of Health budget. "We have some of the most brilliant scientists in the world at the NIH and I am confident that the president's commitment to double the NIH budget by 2003 will lead us to cures for Alzheimer's and other diseases. I don't know when Alzheimer's will be cured, but I know it is coming."

In his first address to the nation and Congress Tuesday night, Bush said he plans to increase the NIH budget by $2.8 billion this year, and by 2003, he intends for the budget to double its 1998 level. This year's budget for the year ending Sept. 30 is $20.3 billion. (See BioWorld Today, March 1, 2001.)

Also, Thompson said he's following Bush's lead to begin pushing a prevention program. "I'm announcing here today that the new administration will start a prevention campaign for exercise, diet and making sure we take care of ourselves."

Further information on the prevention campaign will be forthcoming, he said.

BIO Targets Opinion Makers With Message Of 'Hope'

The Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Thursday began a six-month advertising campaign on both national and cable networks.

The 30-second spot, "Biotechnology: A Big Word That Means Hope," is based on themes of U.S. entrepreneurship, pioneering technology and the biotech industry's research and development of new medicines to treat illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

"This campaign is modest in scope, but laser-aimed at opinion makers in Washington D.C. and the single most important opinion leader in our nation - President Bush," a prepared statement released by BIO president Carl Feldbaum said.

"Biotechnology is central to the new economy and the continued economic growth of our nation. We are still a young industry, however, and many Americans are not familiar with the benefits of biotechnology. This ad campaign is designed to alert policymakers to the U.S. industry's world leadership in creating and applying this innovative technology," Feldbaum's statement said.

The ad will be broadcast in metropolitan Washington and Crawford, Texas, home of President Bush. Shows featuring the ad include "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," ABC and NBC evening news and Fox, CNN and MSNBC political talk shows.

The ads will run from March 1 through June 30 and Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.