Field Trip Health, Inc., a Toronto-based psychedelic-assisted therapy and drug development company, announced this month that former U.S. Senator-turned-lobbyist Tom Daschle will serve as a special advisor to the company.
“Senator Daschle has participated in the development and debate of almost every major public policy issue of the last three decades and is a pre-eminent expert on health policy reform,” Joseph del Moral, co-founder and chief executive officer of Field Trip, said in a press release.
Daschle, a Democrat, represented South Dakota for more than 20 years, serving first in the U.S. House and then the U.S. Senate both as minority and majority leader. He was a key advisor to former President Barack Obama as Obama worked to pass the Affordable Care Act.
“Daschle was of course a Senator, but as an almost cabinet official close to the Obama Administration, he also brings serious executive branch understanding to his client,” Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research that tracks executive branch appointees, told Lucid News in an email.
“Daschle’s choice of client both reflects the stakes for Field Trip Health in Washington as well as Daschle’s confidence that Field Trip Health is not a dangerous association for an Establishment Democrat in the same way it surely would have been in the not too distant past.”
In 2009, Daschle was tapped by Obama to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but controversy over Daschle’s tax filings and his strategic advising for the law firm Alston & Bird, which represented healthcare clients CVS Caremark, Bayer and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, led Daschle to withdraw from consideration for the post.
Daschle’s advisory roles came under scrutiny in 2016, after Wikileaks published a trove of emails from then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Following Clinton’s public statements in 2015 about a potential merger of health industry giants Aetna and Humana, Daschle, who had been working with Aetna, emailed John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, inquiring about a potential meeting between Aetna representatives and the Clinton campaign. At the time, Daschle had not officially registered as a lobbyist, a move he finally made in 2016.
Today, few insurance companies cover medical cannabis, and fewer insurance companies cover psychedelic assisted therapies, which often include counseling and integration therapy before and after the psychedelic drugs are administered. This, for now, creates a cost-barrier to access, something Ronan Levy, co-founder and executive chairman of Field Trip Health acknowledges.
“As for how we ensure access to psychedelic therapies, I don’t think there is a single, right answer,” Levy told Lucid News. “But I do believe that a good starting point is to continue to advance the dialogue, awareness, science and acceptance of psychedelic therapies, all of which Sen. Daschle can help progress through his reach and influence.”
Levy said Daschle may also be able to impact “increasing insurance coverage for currently available psychedelic-assisted therapies (such as ketamine-assisted therapy) particularly for military veterans.” Daschle could also advise on matters such as the lawsuit against the DEA for access to psilocybin and state access programs, such as those being debated in California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine and other states, Levy said.
While his work as a shadow lobbyist has long been a concern of watchdog groups, Daschle’s Congressional career earned him a reputation among colleagues as a patient and inclusive leader.
In 2001, then Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told the Washington Post, “I’ve served with [Daschle] in the Senate for a long time, and I can’t find anything to say about him that’s unpleasant.”
Hauser says Field Trip is making a strategic move by partnering with an experienced public servant and industry lobbyist like Daschle in order to navigate policy and politics in Washington, D.C.
“Understanding how Washington works—the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the swirl that surrounds and influences them—is invaluable to every business situated within an area of current or imminent regulatory and legislative complexity,” Hauser wrote.
“How pernicious the revolving door is depends in large part on two things: Are you fighting for David or Goliath, and are you fighting for what you truly believe, versus selling your skills on the open market like a mercenary,” Hauser continued. “And so to me an experienced labor union lobbyist moving in and out of government is very different from a government veteran lobbying for Facebook or Goldman Sachs.”
Daschle To Lobby for Psychedelics
Daschle co-founded the Bipartisan Policy Center and is co-chair of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. He is also vice chair for the National Democratic Institute and on the Board of Directors at the Center for American Progress.
In his role as a lobbyist, Daschle is the Founder and CEO of the Daschle Group, a Public Policy Advisory of Baker Donelson, a legal and government affairs firm that advises clients on a broad array of economic, policy and political issues.
“There is a paradigm shift underway in our understanding about the role that psychedelics can play in the field of mental health and well-being, being primarily driven by scientists that are dedicating their time and energy to studying and understanding these molecules,” Daschle said in a press release.
Field Trip Health currently offers ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in select locations in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. In February 2021, the company opened a psilocybin research facility in Jamaica.
“Given the urgent need to respond to the global mental health crisis, as well as the impending mental health fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of vital importance that public policy keeps up with these advances,” Daschle said. “Field Trip has proven itself to be a leader in this industry and I look forward to partnering with them to advance this mission.”
According to a press release from Field Trip Health, Daschle will receive “a stipend and options consistent with grants made to the members of the board of directors of Field Trip.”
Image: Nicki Adams