Berwick Breaks Silence, Calling On Insurers To Join Pursuit Of 'Shared Goals'

In his first big speech as President Barack Obama's top Medicare official Donald Berwick Monday called on insurers to join in a "full partnership" with his agency to achieve a health system with lower costs that doesn't withhold care from anyone or risk harming patients, The Associated Press/Washington Post report. The remarks were delivered to a conference hosted by America's Health Insurance Plans. "The choice of the insurance lobby for his speech was unusual since the administration continues to trade verbal potshots with the industry" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/13).

Bloomberg Businessweek: "Berwick's remarks were a departure from the admonishments that his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, leveled in a Sept. 9 letter to the insurance industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. In the letter, written to Karen Ignagni, the group's chief executive officer, Sebelius said insurers were 'falsely blaming' the health-overhaul law for premium increases." An audience member asked if the administration would stop portraying insurers as villains and Berwick replied, "If we steadily work together, to build care community by community and state by state, trust will resurface" (Armstrong, 9/13).

Kaiser Health News/NPR's Health Blog Shots: However, Berwick's speech did have an edge. He said, "CMS is prepared to 'play tough when we have to' and that insurers' 'authenticity matters' if they are to form partnerships with his agency (Weaver, 9/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Why had Berwick been so quiet until now? Obama installed him in a recess appointment in July, a way to avoid a contentious Senate confirmation fight. "Republicans said Dr. Berwick was unfit for the job because he had written in praise of Britain's national health system, and Republican senators contended he would impose health-care rationing." He used this speech to take on those concerns, too, saying, "I urge lower costs without harming a hair on any patient's head" (Adamy, 9/13).

The Salt Lake Tribune: Meanwhile, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have called for Berwick to testify in Congress on the six-month anniversary of the overhaul, which is coming up on Sept. 23. They wrote in a letter, "As we approach this deadline, it is imperative that you become accessible to answer many crucial questions. … Members of Congress and the American people simply cannot be left in the dark" (Burr, 9/13).

Reuters: The White House seems ready for an appearance on the Hill, too. "President Barack Obama resubmitted his pick to run the Medicare and Medicaid programs to the Senate on Monday, two months after bypassing the body with a recess appointment." The White House released a statement Monday announcing that Berwick's nomination had been resubmitted (9/13).

Marking the occasion of the first public speech, Time magazine offers a profile of Berwick with some good background (Pickert, 9/13).

Kaiser Health News also offers a resource guide on Berwick.

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