Tales from the Trail

Healthcare refomer, heal thyself

USA/White House Budget Director Peter Orszag would like to know what treatments work for him — a middle-aged white male who exercises. And he thinks healthcare reform efforts should focus in part on getting that kind of information to everyone.

Experts on healthcare, lobbyists and politicians started a final crunch on Tuesday to try and put together a healthcare reform package that will lower costs, help more Americans get insurance, and improve the less-than-optimal care that most patients now get.

Orszag assured Congress that the White House was leaving the details to lawmakers — but dropped hints about what he would like to see. One example — a new agency or framework for comparing medical treatments, including drugs, head-to-head.

“For me as patient, I would like my doctor to have better information about what might help a middle-aged, marathon-running male than he currently has,” Orszag told a Senate Finance Committe hearing.

“I mean, a great example is prostate cancer. And there are hugely different treatments. And we don’t know which ones work better,” he added.

So is Clinton advising Obama on healthcare? White House won’t say

President Barack Obama turned his chief rival in the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, into his secretary of state, but is he tapping her for advice on healthcare reform too?
Not clear. Clinton, who spearheaded a failed attempt to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system in the 1990s while her husband, Bill Clinton, was president, will be in Europe on Thursday, when Obama holds a “summit” on healthcare reform.
So has the White House consulted with the former first lady about the issue? OBAMA/
“You know, I don’t know if they have had wide-ranging conversations specifically with Secretary Clinton,” spokesman Robert Gibbs told a White House briefing.
“There are still a number of people around that were part of that effort that can be consulted,” he said.
Clinton’s failed efforts in the 90s were widely blamed for hurting her husband’s adminstration, with critics citing the secrecy of the process as one of its downfalls.
Thursday’s summit is meant to set a process in motion to reduce healthcare costs and extend insurance benefits to millions of Americans who are not covered.
Gibbs hinted that the White House would not repeat the former first lady’s mistakes.
“I think even those involved in previous efforts would acknowledge misgivings that they had about the way the process worked,” he said. “Tomorrow’s effort is intended to bring about a process that people can be assured is open.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lemarque (Obama and Clinton at the State Deptarment on January 22)

Group of doctors, workers and insurers back Obama health reform

President-elect Barack Obama’s healthcare reform bid got an endorsement Thursday from six groups representing a range of interests from doctors, insurers and drug makers to workers, patients and consumers. 
The group unveiled an ad backing healthcare reform and announced a multimillion dollar purchase of national television air time. 
The announcement came as Obama’s choice for health secretary, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was making his pitch for confirmation before a Senate committee.
Daschle promised to work with Congress, industry groups and ordinary citizens to build support for reform.
His approach promised to differ sharply from the one taken by former first lady Hillary Clinton in 1994, which she led the Clinton administration’s failed healthcare reform effort.
President Bill Clinton’s reform plan fell apart in part because of resistance from the health insurance industry.
But the ad blitz announced Thursday was backed by health insurance plans as well as other organziations.
The ad promotes healthcare reform as a way way of improving the quality and saving money.

“Fixing the economy requires that we fix the broken healthcare system,” John Seffrin, head of the American Cancer Society, said in unveiling the ad.
“Healing our healthcare system is a key component to jumpstarting our national economy,” added Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.
The other groups sponsoring the ad were Families USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Regence BlueCross BlueShield and the Service Employees International Union.
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Daschle at Senate confirmation hearing Thursday)

The First Draft, Thursday, Jan 8

President-elect Barack Obama will use a speech on the economy Thursday to try to build support for a massive stimulus bill aimed at lifting the United States out of a deep recession. 
BUSH/Obama is warning Congress that unless it acts quickly and boldly to pass his stimulus plan, with its estimated $775 billion price tag, the country could be mired for years in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The president-elect delivers his remarks at 11 a.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.
The speech comes as some lawmakers and financial experts are beginning to raise doubts about elements of the stimulus plan.
The Washington Post quoted lawmakers, tax experts and economists as saying some of the tax cuts in the Obama plan are likely to be too expensive and ineffective.
Obama’s choice to lead the administration’s charge on health care reform goes before a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to receive a cordial welcome from his ex-colleagues and Democratic leaders on the panel predict a smooth confirmation.
President George W. Bush travels to Philadelphia Thursday for an event touting the success of his No Child Left Behind education reform program.
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold a joint session to formally count the electoral votes from the November election, in which Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain.
The action will formally declare Obama as winner of the U.S. presidential vote.
The morning television news shows reported on Obama’s economic speech and new violence in the Middle East, where rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel.
The attacks raised concerns about a possible second front in Israel’s two-week war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
U.S. stock futures dropped early Thursday on disappionting December sales by Wal-Mart, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama listens as Bush speaks during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with all the living former presidents)

Obama visit to North Carolina restaurant stirs mixed emotions

obama-bbq.jpgFAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – There was a sharp exchange among patrons during Barack Obama‘s visit to a barbecue restaurant on Sunday, highlighting the strong emotions the U.S. presidential race is stirring in the final weeks of the campaign.

Obama stopped by Cape Fear BBQ in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to pick up some chicken, collards and baked beans and court voters in this traditionally Republican state.

Some patrons cheered his arrival while others looked on with curiosity and surprise. One woman yelled, “Socialist, Socialist, Socialist — get out of here.” Obama was across the room at the time and did not appear to hear Diane Fanning, 54, who was among several patrons who had just come by after services at the local Presbyterian church. She said she was annoyed that the Illinois senator had stopped in at the restaurant that she regularly visits.

Veep debate includes zingers … and a few gaffes

The vice presidential contenders Joe Biden and Sarah Palin offered their share of zingers and even a couple gaffes during their one and only debate on Thursday in St. Louis.


Biden tried to link the health care plan offered by Palin and presidential hopeful John McCain to Palin’s past support of a now-famous congressional earmark to fund a bridge to a small island that was labeled the “Bridge to Nowhere.”  

“So you’re going to have to place — replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company.  I call that the ‘Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere,’” Biden said.
Meanwhile, Palin corrected her rival about the offshore drilling for energy resources when Biden said “drill, drill drill.” 

Former smoker McCain talks cigarettes, cancer with Lance Armstrong

posterobamamccain.jpgCOLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican John McCain  added a pledge on Thursday to his list of goals if he wins the White House: help people quit smoking. 

McCain, who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day before ceasing 29 years ago, told a summit organized by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong that preventive measures were key to keeping people healthy. 

“So as president, I will work with business and insurance companies in support of programs to help people quit smoking,” he said. 

Media in tow, Obama takes stock of U.S. health care

ST. LOUIS – The doctor was in on Tuesday, as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made the rounds at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in the battleground state of Missouri with a cardiac nurse.

rtx6hqp.jpgObama, hoping to highlight his health care proposal and show local voters a more personal side, visited patients, pushed a cart and conferred with nurses during a two-hour stint in the hospital’s cardiac unit.

His guide for the early-morning shift was nurse Kate Marzluf, 26, who good-naturedly answered his questions and tried to ignore a swarming media contingent while handing out medicine and checking on patients.

Democratic Party to adopt Obama’s policies on special-interest money

BRISTOL, Va. – Basking in his new status as the Democratic standard-bearer, Barack Obama announced on Thursday that his party will adopt the same restrictions on donations that his campaign has put in place.

obama-car.jpgUnder the new policy, the party will no longer take contributions from registered lobbyists or special-interest political action committees. 

Obama talked of the change as he touted his plan to overhaul the health care system during a visit to Bristol, Virginia.

Obama courts the over-70 set

CHARLES CITY, Indiana – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried on Thursday to win over members of one of his most skeptical audiences: senior citizens.

Those voters have tended to be a strong base for Obama’s rival Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and New York senator. At 60, Clinton is older than the 46-year-old Obama and is seen by many older voters as the more experienced candidate.

Visiting an assisted living center in Indiana, the Illinois senator shared stories about his grandfather’s service in World War II, his grandmother’s frugality and his mother’s battle with cancer.barack.jpg