Republicans Continue Attack on Berwick’s “Closed Door” CMS Appointment

July 19, 2010

Republicans in Congress want Dr. Donald Berwick to tell them why he’s the right man for the job and as physicians, shouldn’t you get to hear that too?

Update: On July 19, President Obama submitted Berwick for nomination before the U.S. Senate.

Republicans in Congress want Dr. Donald Berwick to tell them why he’s the right man for the job and as physicians, shouldn’t you get to hear that too?

As Congress returns to work this week, President Obama is calling for unity among the parties to extend unemployment benefits for thousands of Americans. Yet Republicans are reminding the White House that when it came to finding a new head for the CMS, the president did not seek agreement, but rather went behind their backs.

In the weekly Republican address, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) scolded the president’s recent “closed door” recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to head the federal health agency, bypassing a Senate hearing that was in the final rounds of scheduling. Since the appointment, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee - the group that was to screen Berwick - has called for a hearing.

That call was recently echoed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the committee’s chairman, who said he was “troubled” that Berwick was put in place by the president without the Senate’s approval.

Republicans took the opportunity to remind the American people about Berwick’s past support for the British National Health Service and hence his support of “rationing” healthcare among residents. The GOP is therefore indicating, “the president’s plan is to have Dr. Berwick’s use of rationing cut …half a trillion dollars from Medicare,” as called for in federal health reform, according to Roberts’ recent remarks.

So they want a hearing. A hearing for Berwick to address his support of rationing and how he plans to guide the Medicare and Medicaid ship through some murky waters ahead.

“The president’s health care plan – the most sweeping overhaul of health care in our lifetime – cannot be implemented behind closed doors,” Roberts said as he closed his address. “This is a warning! Your health care and the care of your loved ones now hangs in the balance. Americans deserve answers. “

But you also deserve answers. You deserve to know, as the ones responsible for carrying out care to 30 million additional new health insurance subscribers, Berwick’s stance on Medicare reimbursements, the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, and other inquiries. You deserve an opportunity to hear firsthand, about how the future of healthcare not only affects your patients, but affects you as well.

While the Republicans’ approach to tying Berwick to rationing and spreading fear is not laudable, in my opinion, their intent is a good one. This is the reason we have congressional hearings. Yes, they can be dog-and-pony shows and chances for senators to rail against the system just to hear their own voices at times, but in the end, they are job interviews plain and simple.

And perhaps it is time for physicians to have Dr. Berwick sit down and tell them why they should hire him for this job.