Industry groups have welcomed US president-elect Barack Obama’s nomination of the former Democratic leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, to serve as his Secretary for Health and Human Services. However, Mr Daschle’s more recent career as an adviser to a lobbying firm with a number of clients in the health care sector will cause problems.

The early announcement of Mr Obama’s choice for HHS Secretary, ahead of other major posts, suggests that health will have priority status in the new administration, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) described Sen Daschle as “a wise choice to guide the President-elect on shaping healthcare reform.”

“Sen Daschle has what it takes to do the job - smarts, toughness and a strong understanding of the healthcare challenges that face our nation in these tough economic times,” said PhRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin.

Jim Greenwood, chief executive of the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), also said the nomination was a “wise” decision, adding: “Sen Daschle brings to the position an impressive and deep background of health care policy expertise.”

And Bruce Roberts, executive vice president of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), stated that: “during his time in the Senate, Mr Daschle embraced common-sense policies that allowed our more than 23,000 members to operate on a level playing field in providing patients with their health care needs.”

Tom Daschle represented South Dakota in Congress for 26 years, including 10 years as the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, and he had a central role in the Clinton administration’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to reform US health care. He believes that all Americans should have the right to receive health insurance under the system which currently covers federal employees and, in a book which he published this year, he has called for the establishment of a “federal health board” to advise insurers on the treatments which they should cover, based on evidence of effectiveness.

In the book, which is entitled Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis, Mr Daschle also calls on the next president to “act immediately to capitalize on the goodwill that greets any incoming administration. If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it,” he writes.

However, after he left the Senate four years ago, Mr Daschle was appointed as a special public policy advisor and member of the legislative and public policy group at law and lobby firm Alston & Bird, whose web site notes that: “as a non-attorney, Senator Daschle focuses his services on advising the firm’s clients on issues related to all aspects of public policy with a particular emphasis on issues related to financial services, health care, energy, telecommunications and taxes.”

He has also served as a board member of the Mayo Clinic.

While Mr Daschle is not a registered lobbyist (his wife Linda is), his work for Alston & Bird could present some difficulties for the new administration, given that one of Mr Obama’s election pledges was that none of his political appointees would be permitted to work on regulations or contracts “directly and substantially related to their prior employer” for two years.

According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, Alston & Bird has lobbied the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) this year on behalf of 27 pharmaceutical or health care-related clients, including Abbott Laboratories, Bayer Health Care, the Generic pharmaceutical Association (GPhA), Mylan Laboratories, Prostrakan and Roche Diagnostics