Bill Clinton's first Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, has never been shy about voicing her opinions (and good for her!). So it's not surprising that she's got some about Barack Obama's nominees for health care roles.
On the controversy surrounding the nomination of CNN Chief Medical Correspondent (and general hottie) Sanjay Gupta to be Obama's Surgeon General, she says:
"This country needs a surgeon general," she told [U.S. News & World Report's] Suzi Parker. "It needs someone to be able to stand up and be an advocate for the people of this country. You aren't the Congress's surgeon general. You aren't the president's surgeon general. You're the people's surgeon general."
In response to specific criticism's about Gupta's experience, she adds:
"He has enough well-trained, well-qualified public health people to teach him the things he needs to do the job."
Elders, too, came to public health from medicine, having practiced as a doctor before picking up teaching — after which she went to run Arkansas' Department of Health before being appointed as Surgeon General. Presumably, her experience as a doctor and professor influences her opinion of who should helm the Department of Health and Human Services — which, in her opinion, is not Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, the supposed leading candidate.
I feel there are many roles to fill in government, and I feel this is a health role. They need to hear about health and human services from a health provider's perspective. I love lawyers. They do a wonderful job. I love politicians. They probably do a wonderful job. But I think a health professional should be the head of health and human services," she says.
So, Sanjay for HHS?
Elders is, by the way, a big fan of universal health care. While health care reform is on Obama's agenda, he's not yet promoting universal health care, though Elders likes the direction he's going in.
"Universal access to healthcare for all of our people should be a right, not a privilege. Businesses and everyone should be for it. We'd have better workers, healthier workers. They'd be more likely to stay on the job and do a better job. Whatever you do in life, you can do it better if you're healthier. We don't have a healthcare system; we have a very good sick-care system."
In fact, Obama said something similar during the second Presidential debate:
BROKAW: Quick discussion. Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?
OBAMA: Well, I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that.
With Obama seeking to fill both a White House health policy coordination position and the empty chair at HHS, maybe Dr. Elders should keep talking loud enough to be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
For Obama's Surgeon General, Elders Looks Past Masturbation To National Healthcare [U.S. News & World Report]
Related: Transcript Of The Second Presidential Debate [Wall Street Journal]
DeParle, Lew Under Consideration For Top Health Jobs [Washington Post]