President Obama’s nomination of HCFA friend Donald Berwick to head CMS, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is coming under blistering Republican attacks. As the Boston Globe reported, Republicans are using ugly language to smear Berwick, as means of attacking health reform:
GOP’s senators are making it clear they plan to turn Berwick’s confirmation hearings into a forum for continuing debate over the newly-minted health care overhaul law. Republicans believe hammering at the law will help them win seats in the fall’s midterm elections.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor last night that Berwick is an “expert on rationing.’’
“I can see a time when the rural health care system will consist of a Band-Aid and a bedpan,’’ said [Kansas Senator Pat] Roberts, who met with Berwick yesterday. “Most of us will agree that he is the wrong man, wrong time, wrong job.’’
By lauding the United Kingdom’s National Health System, McConnell said, Berwick “is applauding a system where care is delayed, denied, or rationed.’’
New Republic writer Jonathan Cohn commented that the attacks deny our ability to have a rational public discussion about making the systemic changes required to reduce cost growth and improve quality. As Cohn noted in response to the charge that Berwick supports rationing, “Of course, as Berwick pointed out, our system already rations care by income and medical status. Apparently this is not so alarming to McConnell and the rest of the GOP.”
Now supporters of Berwick are fighting back. Beth Israel Deaconess President Paul Levy blogged an open letter to Senator Scott Brown, who says he’s undecided on the nomination:
That Don Berwick is an internationally renowned expert in health care delivery is not in doubt. That he is an honest, hard-working, and thoughtful person is also clear to the thousands of people in the health care professions with whom he has worked. That his primary focus has always been on reducing harm and medical errors is likewise the case. He is also interested in reducing costs in the health care delivery system when such costs represent waste and inefficiency.
Scott, the issue here is not whether the recently passed health care bill was right or wrong for the country. I respect your opinion on that matter. But that vote has been taken.
The issue here is whether you want someone who knows enough about the delivery of health care, whose passion is making that safer for patients, to be in charge of the agency that potentially has the largest single impact on that goal.
HCFA also sent a letter to Sen. Brown. We wrote, “Successful implementation of health reform will take courage and tenacity as well as a human perspective. Dr. Berwick, through his own personal experience, understands that health care can harm patients and families and that systems can be put in place to ensure that health care fulfills its mission of healing rather than harming. Health Care For All has had the opportunity to work with Dr. Berwick and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement on many occasions and we strongly believe he is the right leader at the right time.”
We urge people to join us and write to Sen. Brown and support Berwick’s nomination.
UPDATE June 3: We would highly recommend this article, Who Is Don Berwick and Why Do the Republicans Want to Kill His Nomination? by Linda Bergthold, providing background on Berwick’s devotion to improving health care in the US.