Republican lawmakers are using rhetoric borrowed from their anti-healthcare reform playbook to oppose the nomination of Dr. Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
President Barack Obama tapped Berwick in April for the top job at CMS, a high-profile position that will play a critical role in healthcare reform. 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’s also the co-founder and president of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
CMS funds the healthcare of more than 100 million patients, primarily elderly or low-income Americans. Because Berwick’s nomination comes in the midst of controversy-wrought reform of the nation’s healthcare system and the opening stages of the mass retirement of Baby Boomers, he will likely face a tough confirmation in front of Congress. Medicare and Medicaid haven’t had a permanently seated leader in four years.
Republican opposition to Berwick is taking on a familiar tone, according to National Public Radio, with senators from Kentucky and Wyoming saying he’s part of the plan to ration healthcare and socialize medicine.
"Dr. Berwick is the perfect nominee for a president whose aim has always been to save money by rationing health care,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said.
“Do I really want Dr. Berwick? Do I want somebody who is in love with the National Health Service of Britain — someone who says they have incredible respect for the way it works and thinks it’s the right way to go? Why would an American citizen want that person to be in charge of Medicare and Medicaid for this country?” added Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
Although Berwick said he loved Great Britain’s National Health Service during an address to a group of British physicians two years ago, he spent the majority of the speech criticizing the British healthcare system. His praise was aimed at the system’s cost-to-quality ratio.
The United Kingdom has a longer life expectancy than the U.S., according to the CIA world factbook, and the country’s healthcare system’s per capita cost is half that of the American system.
Mark McClellan, who headed the agency under President George W. Bush, said Berwick is exactly what the agency needs. CMS has lacked a permanent leader for the past four years.
"Don is a person who’s spent his entire career committed not just to talking about ways to make health care better, but actually helping organizations around the country change health care for the better," McClellan told NPR.
ModernHealthcare.com reported Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) suggesting that he doesn’t see confirmation hearings coming before mid-July for Berwick.