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This article was originally published in The Gray Sheet

Executive Summary

HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH: PHILIP LEE, MD, appears likely to return to the top health position in the Health and Human Services Department after 24 years in the private sector. Lee, 68, was assistant secretary for health and scientific affairs for four years at HEW, the predecessor of HHS, during the Johnson Administration (1965-1969). After leaving government, Lee assumed the post of chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco. He has been director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF since 1972. Lee has kept in contact with Washington while in California. Even during the past Republican administrations, he has held a key advisory role to Congress as chairman of the Physician Payment Review Commission from July 1986. During the Carter Administration, Lee did not play a direct role but was a witness in the debates on the proposed revisions to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act drug provisions. The last FDA commissioner in the Carter Administration, Jere Goyan, was a fellow faculty member at UCSF. The Clinton Administration is clearly looking for an experienced candidate to step into the assistant secretary position. The first choice for the job, James Mongan, was a top HEW deputy during the Carter Administration. Mongan withdrew his name from consideration on Feb. 9 ("The Gray Sheet" Feb. 15, I&W- 8). Lee's knowledge of the health care side of HHS responsibilities spans three decades and a wide array of HHS programs. An author profile in one of the numerous books that he has co-authored gives Lee credit for playing a "major role in implementing Medicare [and] Medicaid." Indicative of Lee's extensive contacts in the pharmaceutical industry, the acknowledgments in that book cite Mark Novitch, currently Upjohn vice-chairman. To the drug industry, the appointment of Lee would put a familiar foe in the top echelons of HHS. Among the titles that he has authored are five books dealing with drug industry: Pills, Profits and Politics; Pills and the Public Purse; Prescriptions for Death: The Drugging of The Third World; Drugs and the Elderly: Clinical, Social, and Policy Perspectives; and Bad Medicine. One of the most perplexing problems to the health industry during the first weeks of the Clinton Administration has been getting direct access to decision makers. In this atmosphere, the Shalala management group at HHS has been viewed as one of the most accessible, and potentially sympathetic, groups in the administration. Lee's appointment could make that opening less attractive.

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