New Daschle revelations raise questions about forthcoming EMR rules

Early in 2009, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination to be HHS secretary after it became known that he under-reported income on his tax returns; he drew heavy public criticism for his close ties to the healthcare industry. As the year comes to a close, Daschle again is under fire for working both sides of the fence.

The Huffington Post Investigative Fund reports this week that just months after advising the Obama campaign and subsequently being picked to lead HHS and the administration's healthcare reform efforts, Daschle was instrumental in establishing a health IT practice at a powerful Washington law firm. He's also been a member of the advisory board for General Electric's "Healthymagination" program, which, among other activities, is helping to finance EMR purchases, the story says.

In both cases, Daschle's apparently helping people capture some of the billions in stimulus money for health IT that he likely had a hand in proposing and crafting. And although the health IT practice of that law firm, Alston & Bird, reportedly has had multiple meetings with national health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal--and Daschle was still an Alston & Bird employee until last month--the former senator has not registered as a lobbyist. In fact, he maintains that he doesn't need to because he's not involved in lobbying activities.

It doesn't sound like Daschle has broken any laws. I'm not going to judge whether he violated any ethics rules or principles, since I'm not a lawyer. But I'm awfully glad he never became HHS secretary. I also wonder who else has had undue influence--or even the appearance of undue influence--on the "meaningful use" rule-making process. - Neil