HHS secretary keeps it real on blog

Got something to say to Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, but can't get an appointment? Try his blog, at secretarysblog.hhs.gov.

Last August, Leavitt became the first Cabinet member to hit the blogosphere, although others have followed suit. Leavitt's self-written blog is chatty and reflective, in comparison with the more formal (and mostly staff-written) one for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"I'm sitting at my desk with a bowl of soup for lunch. I have 30 minutes and I'm thinking this might be a good time to respond to a few comments you have sent," Leavitt wrote on January 30. While slurping his soup, he responded to postings about bird flu in Latin America, health care reform, import safety, and electronic medical records as a means of lowering Medicare spending.

Leavitt doesn't shy away from critics, such as one who wrote on January 22: "Instead of talking about 'safe' topics such as India or Guatemala, why don't you address meaningful topics to the American people, such as what efforts you and the administration are undertaking to fix our health care system?"

Leavitt defended the overseas entries, and the trips themselves, saying they directly affect the health of Americans. "Most of my time in India was focused on products Americans consume," he said. However, he added, "I should also confess that I use this blog as a way to keep track of what I learn on these trips as a journal of sorts."

Leavitt does some of his blogging on overseas flights. On airplanes between destinations in China and India, he kept readers up to speed about his progress on import safety negotiations with government officials. The blog entries often offer personal impressions of the people and places he's visited, and what he's learned from the experience.

On January 7, Leavitt wrote about a cardiologist he met in Chennai, India, who had trained in the United States. "He returned to India to set up private hospitals. His company, Apollo Hospitals Group, now has 46 hospitals. I want to write more about this later, because one of their hospitals' trademark characteristics is, they make their results public and post their prices. They have results that rival the best U.S. hospitals, and their costs are a fraction of U.S. prices."

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