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Daschle withdraws as HHS nominee, severing a Mayo tie

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

The former Senate majority leader nominated by President Obama for secretary of Health and Human Services withdrew from consideration Tuesday, cutting Mayo Clinic’s closest direct connection to national health-care reform.

Tom Daschle, a former senator from South Dakota, withdrew amid growing criticism over his admission that he failed to pay more than $120,000 in taxes, and only recently corrected the mistake.

Daschle, a member of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees, could have gotten Mayo Clinic close to the Obama administration.

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Yet Mayo officials remain unfazed that Daschle withdrew from consideration, and feel confident that they’ll still get input.

"We will remain committed to pressing forward, to bringing forward our ideas to the new administration on health-care reform," said Chris Gade, managing director of the Health Policy Center.

The center has developed a plan for how the president should fix the health-care system based on input from thousands of patients, patient advocates, business leaders and health providers. But the center also hopes to engage those outside the political system into the discussion.

"We really feel like, in part, it’s a political solution. But we also feel … we can make improvements in the delivery system outside the political system," Gade said.

The move by Daschle to withdraw his name could be seen as a blow to Mayo’s efforts.

However, Mayo leaders, including Gade, have already met with top congressional leaders.

He, along with Mayo’s national CEO, Dr. Denis Cortese, and Jeff Korsmo, executive director of the Health Policy Center, reportedly met with more than 15 key leaders of Congress and the new administration during the week before the presidential inauguration.

Included in the meeting were:

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• Jeanne Lambrew, the incoming deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

• Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee

• Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health

Gade said that Mayo, as an organization, has formed "ongoing relationships" with various members of Congress over the years.

"That’s going to be sustained, and in fact our goal is to continue to develop and foster relationships with them," he said.

Recently, bloggers have speculated that Cortese might be named to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Health and Human Services department.

Through a spokeswoman, Cortese said this week that he has not been asked to take the Medicare position. Previous inquiries about whether he’d been invited to become assistant secretary of HHS under Daschle received similar responses.

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Gade said Tuesday that Cortese has not been invited to become either the HHS secretary or the CMS administrator.

Reporter Jeff Hansel covers health for the Post-Bulletin. Read his blog, Pulse on Health, at Postbulletin.com.

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