Harvard Medical School Hosts Senator Thomas A. Daschle

No matter who wins the upcoming presidential election, change is coming to the U.S. health care system, according to former U.S. Senator Thomas A. Daschle who gave a lecture at Harvard Medical School on Tuesday.

“I am reluctant to say this, but I have to acknowledge the truth of it: [health reform] is going to happen regardless of who’s elected president,” Daschle, who is a Democrat, said. “There is going to be a dramatic transformation [in health care] over the next ten years one way or the other.”

In his lecture entitled “The Affordable Care Act: A New Paradigm for Health in America,” Daschle forecasted “inexorable” and “near-term” improvements in transparency, information, and quality.

The event was the HMS Department of Health Care Policy’s 12th Annual Marshall J. Seidman Lecture on Health Policy. Past lecturers include former U.S. Senator William H. Frist and former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers.

The former Senate majority leader from South Dakota discussed the partisan disagreement surrounding the role of government and identified the “tests” that the Affordable Care Act has and will face. Daschle said that even if Obama is re-elected, the Affordable Care Act will continue to be challenged in the courts and in the legislature. He also anticipated challenges in the implementation of the Act’s reforms.

Daschle closed his lecture by contrasting the politicized character of health care policy and the insulated nature of monetary policy.

“Unfortunately, health care policy-making in this country has become so politicized and so complex that, just like our monetary system, I honestly don’t think that Congress has the capacity on a daily basis to manage it,” Daschle said. “I believe that we need to create a ‘Health Fed,’ a body that allows thoughtful decision making with the opportunity for Congress to override any decision they don’t like.”

During the question and answer portion of the lecture, Daschle called on the work of health care policy lecturer Donald M. Berwick ’68, who was asked to provide perspective on physician leadership in implementing health care reform.

“I think we know what better care looks like,” Berwick said. “We actually know how to give better care at lower cost, but it’s a matter of will and follow-through, and execution and change.”

When asked whether he believed the relationship between Congress and the Executive Office would improve in the next four years, Daschle noted the barriers of partisan politics. However, he said that he remains optimistic.

“The election allows for a new stage to be constructed, upon which different scenarios can play themselves out,” said Daschle. “I do think there is an opportunity for a new dialogue.”

After the lecture, Berwick said that Daschle added an important perspective to the discussion about the Affordable Care Act.

“You had a very sophisticated politcal expert talking about the inevitability of change,” Berwick said following the lecture. “[Daschle] sees as I see it: tectonics of health care change in the next decade are going to play out.”