The Corpus Callosum

Obama has made href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/02/AR2009030200371.html?wprss=rss_nation">two
important appointments, to positions that will influence healthcare
policy.  The attention so far has been focused on href="http://www.governor.ks.gov/">Kathleen Sebelius, who is in
line to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, assuming she is
confirmed by the Senate.  Sebelius already has href="http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/03/03/kathleen-sebelius-and-the-fight-over-whos-truly-catholic.html">attracted
controversy, coming under attack by anti-abortion advocates. 

As reported on Medscape (free registration required):

Health
Finance Expert Named Health Reform Czar

Kathryn Foxhall

March 4, 2009 — US President Barack Obama has chosen Nancy-Ann DeParle
to be the head of the newly created White House Office on Health Reform.

DeParle’s appointment was announced by President Obama on Monday, at
the same time he announced the nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen
Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius’
nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, but DeParle’s appointment
does not.

DeParle will be plunged directly into her work this week. The White
House has a summit on healthcare reform scheduled for Thursday…

This is a clever move. 


DeParle is not particularly controversial.  She certainly is not a
polarizing or provocative pick, the way Hillary Clinton turned out to
be when President Clinton got her involved in health care reform. 
The article mentions that she plans to get Congress involved in the
process early.  She believes that one the the Clintons’ problems
stemmed from the way the sent a highly detailed plan to Congress. 
Her plan is to have Congress work out the details among themselves.

DeParle has a lot of experience in healthcare policy.  This href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy-Ann_Min_DeParle">goes back to
1987, when she was commissioner of the Tennessee Department of
Human Services.  Most of her work since then has been in the
financial and business sides of healthcare. 

Notably, she does not have any experience or training as a provider of
health care.  If there is any worry about her appointment, it is
that she has been closely aligned with business interests.  From
the Medscape article:

[S]he has moved to the private sector, serving as senior
advisor to JPMorgan Partners, LLC, and then as managing director for
healthcare for CCMP Capital Advisors, an investment firm with offices
in New York City. CCMP’s portfolio includes CareMore Medical
Enterprises, Hanger Orthopedic Group, Medquest Associates, and National
Surgical Care.

DeParle has also been on the boards of companies including MedcoHealth
Solutions Inc; Noble Environmental Power, LLC; Boston Scientific
Corporation; MedQuest, Inc.; Accredo Health, Inc; Cerner Corporation;
Triad Hospitals, Inc; DaVita, Inc; and Guidant Corp, according to CCMP
information.

For six years, she was on a panel (the Medicare Payment Advisory
Commission) that advised Congress on issues pertaining to access to
health care.  Thus, she is known — and, reportedly, respected —
by members of Congress. 

Will the industry ties affect her perspective?  That remains to be
seen.   The White House has issued a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090302/pl_politico/19500_1">statement,
that DeParle “will resign from her board posts, and recuse herself from
any matters that could present a conflict” of interest.  The
Medscape article states:

At a MedPac discussion last year DeParle showed she is
willing to push for reform that may not be appreciated by industry.

Like I said, that remains to be seen.  I would not worry too much
about her industry ties; rather, I would worry about the undue
influence that industry has upon Congress. 

Others may worry more.  In fact, the title of the New York Times
article about her appointment is this:  href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/us/politics/03czar.html">Obama
Taps Health Aide With Links to Industry.  It is an
unflattering title.  One odd thing about that: she is href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B00E7DE163BF930A15750C0A961958260">married
to a NYT reporter.

Perhaps offsetting the concerns about potential conflicts of interest,
is the fact that her personal background may inform her treatment of
the underprivileged.  The NYT article mentions that her father was
a Chinese immigrant.  Also, she was raised by a single mother in a
small town in Tennessee.  Her mother died of cancer when DeParle
was 17. 

I suspect that she is a person with a strong motivation for advocacy,
who has decided to work within the established system.  The big
challenge with healthcare reform is to get the thing though Congress,
and sell it to the People.  DeParle appears to be well-positioned
for that challenge.