Don Berwick Controversy

December 5, 2011
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Dr Don Berwick resigned from his position at CMS this past Thursday.He resigned with little chance of being approved by congress in a long delayed hearing process. President Obama doomed him to failure with the ‘rush’ to appoint him to the position as head of CMS while Congress was not in session. Dr. Berwick is an outstanding physician and analytical expert, His experience and record as President of the Institute of Medicine (I.O.M.) portended significant accomplishments at Medicare and HHS. He is such an individual with strong convictions and integrity. He is now the first to admit the difficulty and challenge of framing and implementing changes in not only HHS,CMS but our entire Federal and State systems of government.

In a world of politics where there are no shades of gray, but only the rigidity of black and white differences of political opinion he was faced with his own unintended skeletons.  In addition to his own opinions he was sabotaged by President Obama,, himself in the manner of his appointment, perceived by congress as a detour around the process. Congress had some serious questions to ask Dr Berwick, and had he the chance to answer critics, Obama may not have faced the intense resistance to implementing Obama care. In return Congress made it clear he would not be permanently appointed.

Deep partisan divides have stopped Congress from confirming Berwick since mid-October 2006, creating instability in the agency that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Obama installed Berwick in July 2010 as a recess appointment, which was heavily criticized by Republicans who accused the pediatrician of favoring health care rationing — a charge Democrats dismissed as nonsense. (Senior Journal.com).

 

Those of you who read my opinions know that I was not a Berwick fans. However in his departing commentary he pointed out,

“The extremely high level of waste,” as exemplified by overtreatment of patients, failure to coordinate care, administrative complexity, burdensome rules, and fraud.

• “Much is done that does not help patients at all,” Dr. Berwick said, “and many physicians know it.”

• “I came with an agenda, I wanted to try to change the agency to be a force for improvement, covering one out of three Americans.”

• It’s a complex, complicated law. To explain it takes a while. To understand it takes an investment that I’m not sure the man or woman in the street wants to make or ought to make.”

• “We are a nation headed for justice, for fairness and justice in access to care,”

• “We are a nation headed for much more healing and much safer care. There is a moon shot here. But somehow we have not put together that story in a way that’s compelling.”

• “Government is more complex than I had realized. Government decisions result from the interactions of many internal stakeholders — different agencies and parts of government that, in many cases, have their own world views.”

• “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”

• Berwick added, “Republicans have completed distorted my meaning. My point is that someone, like your health insurance company, is going to limit what you can get. That’s the way it’s set up. The government, unlike many private health insurance plans, is working in the daylight. That’s a strength.”

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In another ‘interim appointment’ President Barack Obama is nominating Marilyn Tavenner (Washington Post Wonkblog) to succeed Donald M. Berwick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.The current political climate on Capitol Hill may mean that Tavenner is just as likely to see her nomination stall.

 

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