Politics Surround Berwick, No Hearings Scheduled For CMS Nominee

The New York Times on Dr. Donald Berwick, the president's nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): "Hospital executives who have worked with Dr. Berwick describe him as a visionary, inspiring leader. But a battle has erupted over his nomination, suggesting that Dr. Berwick faces a long uphill struggle to win Senate confirmation. Republicans are using the nomination to revive their arguments against the new health care law, which they see as a potent issue in this fall's elections, and Dr. Berwick has given them plenty of ammunition. In two decades as a professor of health policy and as a prolific writer, he has spoken of the need to ration health care and cap spending and has confessed to a love affair with the British health care system."

The Times notes that the position Berwick was nominated for "has been vacant since October 2006, and the need to fill it has become more pressing with passage of the new law. The agency must write and enforce dozens of regulations to expand Medicaid, trim Medicare and test new ways to deliver care. … Administration officials say they are confident that Dr. Berwick will be confirmed." They also maintain that Republicans have taken his words out of context (Pear, 6/21).

The Kansas City Star: "Berwick, a Harvard professor of pediatrics, has been an outspoken critic of some aspects of the health care system. Backers call him a 'visionary' for the work done by his think tank, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement based in Cambridge, Mass., to find ways to lower costs through better patient care and safety. ... Berwick's critics, however, call him a 'starry-eyed health guru.'" Some Republicans back him, however, including three former directors of CMS even as "rumors floated in recent days that Berwick might even withdraw his name." 

"Democratic lawmakers might be getting nervous about yet another health care fight, this one over a nominee who, despite widespread support from doctors, hospitals, medical schools, consumer groups and others, has become a political weapon in the hands of opponents" (Goldstein, 6/21).

Modern Healthcare: The American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and others — are backing Berwick. "Earlier this month, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) indicated that a confirmation hearing wasn't likely to begin before Congress' July 4 recess. Berwick's nomination has to first pass through Baucus' committee, where a number of Republicans plan to press the 63-year-old pediatrician on statements he has made that seemingly support rationing healthcare." The groups sent a letter of support for Berwick, and also included the Association of American Medical Colleges (DoBias, 6/21).

The Hill reports that although Senate leaders are nearing an agreement to allow more than 60 Obama nominees to be approved to begin work, Berwick is not on the list. "'He will not get unanimous consent,' a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The Hill Monday evening. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are all but agreed on allowing 67 nominees to proceed by unanimous consent" (Lillis, 6/21).

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