Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, said if confirmed by the Senate he will work to make health care more affordable for more Americans. Health care reform is a top domestic priority for the incoming Obama administration.
At a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Tom Daschle acknowledged the challenges involved in reforming the U.S. health care system - as medical costs rise and the numbers of Americans without health insurance grow.
"The fact that health care premiums have doubled in the last eight years leave some families to make the awful choice between health insurance and rent or heat and food," he said.
Daschle - who is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate - is author of the book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis.
Daschle said the health care crisis is affecting U.S. economic competitiveness - noting, for example, that the U.S. automaker General Motors spends more on health care than it does on steel.
"We have serious cost problems now. But every expert says, if we fail to address the issue of cost, that the situation will double just in the next 10 years alone," he said.
Mr. Daschle also vowed to restore confidence in federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, which critics have said have been too close to industry under the Bush administration. Some lawmakers from both political parties have said the FDA has ignored or suppressed its own scientists' conclusions on safety issues relating to drugs and medical devices. Daschle took note.
"I want to reinstate a science-driven environment. I want to take ideology, politics, as much as humanly possible, out of the process and leave the scientists to do their job," said Daschle.
Chairing the committee was Senator Ted Kennedy, his first hearing since undergoing brain cancer surgery last year.
"Tom Daschle understands the urgency and the challenge of health reform. He knows that Americans feel the heavy weight of rising costs," he said.
Health care has been a key issue for the Massachusetts Democrat throughout his long Senate career.
Thursday's confirmation hearing is the first for an Obama cabinet nominee. On Friday, the same Senate committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Congresswoman Hilda Solis, a California Democrat, to be labor secretary.
Next Tuesday, hearings are scheduled for five nominees, including Senator Hillary Clinton to be Mr. Obama's secretary of state.