President Obama Sneaks Dr. Donald Berwick Past Republican Opposition to Head CMS

President Obama bypasses Senate to make Dr. Donald Berwick the head of Medicare and Medicaid.  Facing a hostile approval process from Republicans in the Senate, President Barack Obama is making a recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid.

A sharp critic of the way healthcare is delivered in the United States, Berwick believes the system is inefficient and lacks an efficient information-sharing apparatus.  In addition to his practice and academic work, Berwick is the founder of the Institute for Health Care Improvement, a think tank that focuses on “cultivating promising concepts for improving patient care and turning those ideas into action.”

Berwick, a Harvard-educated pediatrician and Harvard Medical School professor, believes in improving the quality of healthcare so physicians are rewarded for better outcomes rather than on a per-procedure basis.  Although it’s unlikely that this idea could be applied to the whole medical profession, Medicare and Medicaid are large enough that changing the traditional way healthcare is delivered would echo throughout medicine.  Together, Medicare and Medicaid cover 100 million Americans – approximately one-third – and accounted for $750 billion of federal spending in 2009.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, that totals 20 percent of the federal budget.

“Many Republicans in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points,” according to Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director.  “But with the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors’ care under the Affordable Care Act, there’s no time to waste with Washington game-playing.”

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