HHS Nominee: Take Two


The so-far fitful process of choosing a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary may not delay meaningful healthcare reform—if President Obama remains committed to making the overhaul a top priority, says one of SHM's co-founders.

"On the one hand, he hasn't been able to get anything done in the first 100 days," says Hospitalist Win Whitcomb, MD, vice president of quality improvement at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. "That's not as concerning as if he did not prioritize the first year of his presidency. If he doesn't lay the groundwork for meaningful reform in healthcare, that's concerning."

Dr. Whitcomb's comments came as Obama picked Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his new HHS secretary nominee. Obama's original choice, former Sen. Tom Daschle, withdrew from consideration amid questions about his taxes. Sebelius, a Democratic governor in a conservative state, could face a contentious Senate confirmation because of her anti-abortion critics. Obama, however, already has filled the other job Daschle was to hold with Nancy-Ann DeParle, a former health policy official during the Clinton administration. She will lead the White House Office on Health Reform; the appointment does not require Senate approval.

What this means for hospitalists is that Obama's goals to expand health insurance coverage, help install electronic record systems, and establish pay for performance in care delivery are receiving significant Oval Office attention. All were discussion topics last week as SHM officials met with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

"Any sort of reform that's going to be affecting hospitals, we'll be the key role players in making those changes," Dr. Whitcomb says. "We're in the hospital all the time and [among] the most invested."

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