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Daschle Pledges Bipartisan Health Care Reform Effort

During a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle pledged to lead a bipartisan health care reform effort, based on evidence and not ideology. Experts discuss the challenges he will face if confirmed.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, fixing the American health care system.

    As most of you know, our health correspondent, Betty Ann Bowser, reported earlier this week on the major issues involved. They were also front and center today at a Senate confirmation hearing. Betty Ann again reports for our Health Unit, a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    As the economy has worsened, President-elect Barack Obama has reinforced his promise that health care reform must remain near the top of his agenda.

    Today, the man Obama wants in charge of that mission, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle, said at his confirmation hearing that reform is not only necessary, it's urgent.

    TOM DASCHLE, Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate: The flaws in our health system are pervasive and corrosive. They threaten our health and economic security.

    It is unacceptable that, in a nation of approximately 300 million people, nearly 1 in 6 Americans don't have health insurance. As we face a harsh and deep recession, the problem of the uninsured is likely to grow.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The former Senate majority leader got a warm reception from members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

    SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: 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.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    If he's confirmed, not only will Daschle be a cabinet secretary, he will also head a new White House Office of Health Reform. He laid out his vision of how the health care system should be changed.

  • TOM DASCHLE:

    I think we need to change the paradigm in this country on health. It starts with that big-picture belief that the paradigm needs to be changed from illness to wellness.

    I look at health care 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.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Daschle discussed the litany of problems in the American health care system, including several addressed this week in our series.

    The NewsHour team traveled to Tennessee, where people with insurance coverage are struggling economically; to Massachusetts, where there's a shortage of doctors throughout the state; and to Kansas, where small businesses are coping with high insurance costs.

    Daschle was asked about some of those issues: first, the shortage of primary care physicians.

  • TOM DASCHLE:

    Our system works through incentives. Right now, there's a great deal of incentive to become a sub-specialist. I'd like to see the day when we incentivize in the same way our primary care providers, our nurses.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Daschle also addressed the issue of the underinsured.

  • TOM DASCHLE:

    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.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The secretary-designate also told the committee that it will cost the country more in the long run if nothing is done to reform health care.

  • TOM DASCHLE:

    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.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Daschle is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate after the Senate Finance Committee holds additional hearings.

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