The conversation is that he has a background in health policy, and has negotiated a role in the health reform effort. If he takes the position role, he clearly will be a visible spokesperson for reform.
One of the things I remember about past health care ballot measure fights is the need of a credible, trusted, known spokesperson.
I remember on Prop 54, the Ward Connerly initiative to ban the collection of racial data, it was helpful to have former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop make the case that the Proposition would hinder public health efforts. In a 30 second ad, it mattered it was Koop… a known quantity for even those that don’t pay attention to this stuff that much, saying that the proposition would hurt your health care. Prop 54 failed.
For various reforms since, we have used many great name-brand organizations and many noted doctors, nurses, community leaders, and elected officials, in both TV ads and the ballot pamphlet. There’s a reason those endorsements matter: for initiatives, when people are not inclined to know or study all the details, they tend to rely on the advise of those they trust: and that works best when it is a person, rather than an institution or credential. And while some issues might have that person (Al Gore on the environment?), there’s not a lot of those people for the health and economic issues related to health reform.
But at the end of the day, President-elect Obama will be the primary person: reform’s chances will be tied to the popularity and trust of his name. The “Clinton health plan” started to sink as Clinton’s ratings went down due to unrelated policy and political matters–even while the provisions of the plan polled the same.
But given how foundational health care is to people’s lives, it won’t hurt to have a key surrogate that had credibility on health issues–not just on public health, but on health reform as well.