GOP senators gear up to give Medicare chief Berwick a hard time

November 16, 2010 by MassDevice staff

Republican senators are gearing up to ask Dr. Donald Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, some hard questions during his first appearance before the U.S. Senate.

CMS head Dr. Donald Berwick

Dr. Donald Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is facing a hot seat in Washington, D.C., tomorrow as he prepares for his first appearance in front of the U.S. Senate since a controversial recess appointment in July.

Republican senators, led by healthcare hawk Charles Grassley of Iowa, are gearing up to grill Berwick on a number of issues, according to the Politico website.

"Dr. Berwick was recess appointed before he had even a nomination hearing before the committee of jurisdiction," Grassley told the website in prepared remarks. "The public doesn't have any insight into his thinking on anything. The hearing will offer a chance to shed some light on what CMS is doing to prepare for some of the biggest changes in the history of modern health care. It's overdue, and it should be the first of many."

Berwick can expect versions of five basic questions tomorrow, according to Republicans interviewed by Politico:

  1. You've professed great admiration for Britain's National Health Service. How have you helped shape that system and do you see it as model for the U.S. system?

    Berwick, unlike some of his career-bureaucrat predecessors, is a professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health in pediatrics and healthcare policy, respectively. He also co-founded the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. President Barack Obama's nomination of Berwick as CMS administrator brought about a fervid addendum to the healthcare reform debate, as partisan Republican opposition threatened to derail the appointment. Obama's use of a recess appointment to skirt the political battle to bypass the deadlock prompted attacks from the right of Berwick's praise of the United Kingdom's single-payer, publicly funded National Health Service. The attacks, based on an out-of-context aside, suggested that Berwick would "ration" healthcare. Berwick was given an honorary knighthood in 2005 for his efforts to improve the U.K.'s system.