It wasn’t technically Dickensian, but the grilling of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid chief Dr. Donald Berwick on Capitol Hill this morning was certainly the tale of two Michigan congressmen.
Berwick received tough questions from Republican members and mostly plaudits from Democrats as he testified before the House Ways and Means Committee meeting on the impact last year’s landmark Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act will have on Medicare.
What he probably didn’t expect was a lesson in literature from chairman Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.).
“If I were to pick a subtitle for this hearing, I would quote Charles Dickens,” Camp said in an opening statement. “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ because as I read through today’s testimony I see two very contrasting views [on healthcare reform].”
Citing the committee’s “constitutional and fiduciary” duty to question Berwick, as the budget for CMS is “larger than the Dept. of Defense,” Camp set the tone for more than two hours of questioning with an openly hostile opening salvo.
“Are you still in love with the National Healthcare System [in Great Britain]?” Camp asked. When Berwick tried to provide a nuanced answer, Camp cut him with a sharp, “Is that a yes or no?”
Berwick continued to answer the question, saying at one point that “an American healthcare solution needs an American solution,” with Camp still pressing him for an up-or-down vote.
The exchange continued for more than five minutes, until Camp had to cede the chair to ranking Democrat Rep. Carl Levin, also of the Wolverine State, who took a much more congenial tone.
“I’m glad chairman asked you these questions, so the air can be cleared,” Levin said, adding that the grilling of Berwick was as important part of trying to separate “fact from myth.”
Berwick’s appearance on the Hill marked just his second visit since being appointed CMS head. He’s been a lightning rod for Republican ire since his recess appointment last summer — which is likely to be the case for a while, as President Barack Obama re-nominated Berwick last month after his State of the Union address. That means the Senate get another shot at Berwick, after a scheduling conflict cut short his much-anticipated appearance there in November 2010.
Click here to watch Berwick’s full testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on C-Span.