GOP Launches Attacks On CMS Nominee Berwick

Republicans have begun attacking Donald Berwick, a doctor and Harvard professor nominated to head the Obama administration's Medicare and Medicaid agency, The Boston Globe reports. If confirmed, Berwick would run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency with 4,500 employees and an annual budget of $780 billion. But, first, he will have to survive Republican attacks, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's assertion Wednesday that his is an "expert on rationing." A Senate Republican Policy Committee paper said he would help put the agency on a path towards a "brave new health care world" (Milligan, 5/13).

Politico: "Republicans say Berwick supports the idea of rationing health care, a charge they deployed to stir public anger against the Democrats’ health care overhaul." In another example, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "Dr. Berwick is the perfect nominee for a president whose aim has always been to save money by rationing health care." They are backing that claim using Berwick's own public statements. The nominee said less than two years ago, "I am romantic about the [British National Health Service]; I love it. All I need to do to rediscover the romance is to look at health care in my own country." The NHS rations health care, Roberts said (Haberkorn, 5/12).

The Hill adds, "The British system, which requires waiting times for non-emergency surgeries, was a favorite target for Republicans during the health reform debate. In particular, they pointed out that cancer survival rates in Great Britain are notoriously lower than in the United States." But, many Britons are happy with their system. The White House responded to GOP attacks saying, "No one is surprised that Republicans plan to use this confirmation process to trot out the same arguments and scare tactics they hoped would block health insurance reform." Rationing already goes on in the United States when insurers make coverage decisions, the White House spokesman said. By contrast, "Berwick has dedicated his career to finding ways to making our health care system work better for patients and cost less for taxpayers," he said (Pecquet, 5/12).

Earlier related KHN coverage: Checking In With Dr. Donald Berwick (Galewitz, 11/12/09).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.