Don Berwick leads CMS
Dr. Donald Berwick was sworn in today as the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Without a leader since 2006, the appointment of Dr. Berwick is a long-awaited addition to the federal agency. Dr. Berwick is widely known as a pioneer in the field of health care quality. The American Medical Association announced its support for Berwick weeks ago, stating,
He is widely known and well-respected for his visionary leadership efforts that focus on optimizing the quality and safety of patient care in hospitals and across health-care settings.
His work is respected across disciplines and his innovative take on the health care system will be especially important given the role that CMS will play in implementing the health reform law. As a practicing pediatrician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, a consultant in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor of pediatrics and health policy at Harvard, and as president and CEO of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, Dr. Berwick has a variety of experiences with our health care system that will help inform his decisions at CMS.
Now, given Dr. Berwick’s impressive resume and endorsements from most major medical societies and former heads of CMS (including two that served under Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush), it’s difficult to understand why his nomination has been stalled since last April. Republicans have chosen to use this nomination as a tool to rehash some of the most negative and divisive rhetoric that became so familiar throughout the course of the health reform fight. In the words of Thomas Scully, Administrator of CMS under the last administration,
He’s universally regarded as a thoughtful guy who is not partisan. I think it’s more about … the health care bill. You could nominate Ghandi to be head of CMS and that would be controversial right now.
Instead of having a rational discussion about Dr. Berwick’s merits, Senate Republicans have been unwilling to even schedule confirmation hearings and have instead used the past few months to take Dr. Berwick’s words out of context in order to raise doubts about his intentions to improve American health care. CMS has been without an Administrator since 2006, and with the implementation of health reform in full swing, it is unconscionable for Republicans to continue to delay and postpone Dr. Berwick’s confirmation in the hopes of scoring political points. Left with few options, President Obama decided to bypass Republican obstructionism and appoint Dr. Berwick during Congress’s July recess. The President’s decision to use a recess appointment illustrates his commitment to putting the public’s best interests above politics.
For Republicans to say that Dr. Berwick advocates for rationing of care and a complete abandonment of our health care system for a government-run system like the British National Health Service is not only flat wrong, it’s a waste of our time. Implementing the new health care law will be a challenging process over the next few years. We need someone leading CMS with the tools to meet those challenges, and we need our public leaders to put that goal above political games and partisanship. Dr. Berwick can be that leader.