Obama's Plans for Health Care Reform: New FDA, Stem Cell Law Veto
President-elect Barack Obama made some hefty promises with regards to American health care reform during his campaign for presidency. His plans outlined the implementation of lower health insurance premiums and raised accessibility for all Americans, health insurance for all children, and the requirement that most businesses provide at least some health care insurance to their employees.
When Obama was elected, there was some initial skepticism as to when these plans would be mobilized, especially given the current economic crisis facing America and the world:
"I have no inside track, but I would bet that in this economic climate it is far more likely that changes will be phased in over time," says Karen Davis, president of the health policy and research group Commonwealth Fund.
But so far, Obama has been anything but inactive over the past week since winning the election. John Podesta, who was appointed by Obama to oversee his transition process into the White House, announced that the president-to-be would use his new power to immediately enforce sweeping changes, such as overturning Bush's ban on stem-cell research:
"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush Administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," Mr Podesta said. "There's a lot that the President can do using his executive authority without waiting for Congressional action, and I think we'll see the President do that," he said.
Podesta singled out restrictions applied by George Bush, in 2001, on federal funding of stem cell research, as well as recent moves by the White House to dilute environmental protections against oil drilling, as two areas in which quick action may be taken.
According to the Washington Post, a team of about 50 Obama advisers have worked for months identifying some 200 Bush policies that are possible targets. Other areas of action may include reproductive rights, food and drug regulation and immigration enforcement.
News that the FDA is expected to receive a face-lift after a year of tainted foods and drugs flooding the consumer market was released just a day after Obama was appointed President-elect.
Senate Democrats could seek support from across the aisle to push several bills opposed by industry, and use hearings and investigations to shine the spotlight on drug companies and the FDA.
Congress has a lengthy agenda for FDA overhaul. Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced tough legislation that would add new fees on imports to help pay for more inspections of foreign country-based plants and incoming drugs and food. Also, congressional Democrats want to give the FDA oversight of tobacco products. The bill would create a separate wing at the FDA and set up strict regulations for U.S. cigarette and smokeless-tobacco makers involving marketing and the development of new goods.
A big challenge facing a new FDA administrator will be rebuilding the agency's staff of scientists. An advisory committee warned this year that the FDA lacks scientists with experience in biologics and cell-based therapies.
While immediate changes do seem to be on the agenda, many predict that Obama will play the slow and steady card with regards to bigger health coverage issues:
The future of the Democratic Party hinges on the argument over whether President-Elect Barack Obama will get where he needs to by acting big or aiming small.
The challenge for Obama and the team he’s putting together is in finding a Goldilocks balance, when plenty of folks want it hot, and plenty of others want it cold. He needs to deliver on his promises for change, while not eroding the promise of the broad change to politics his election meant to so many.