Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dr. Don Berwick’s Appointment to CMS in Danger

Last July, President Obama appointed Dr. Donald Berwick to serve as the Chief Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) through a recess appointment, meaning the president is putting Berwick in place while Congress is on recess.

However, Dr. Berwick still needs Senate approval eight months later and Republicans have gathered enough support to block his Senate confirmation. This shock came with a letter signed by 42 Republican Senators. This number is large enough to defeat his confirmation because 60 “yes” votes are required to confirm Dr Berwick. This majority in the Senate has called on the administration to withdraw Dr. Berwick’s nomination citing his past statements about healthcare rationing, and his lack of experience managing an organization of CMS’s size disqualify him.

Last Tuesday, Berwick said that the administration has sufficiently gone to bat for him as Republicans make him a central political target for their opposition to the healthcare reform law enacted last year.

“You may have seen a response from the White House a few days ago,” Berwick told reporters after a speech at an America’s Health Insurance Plans conference. “It was positive. I’m very grateful for that response.”

After the Senators sent the letter, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said the administration would not withdraw Berwick’s nomination.
“The president nominated Don Berwick because he’s far and away the best person for the job, and he’s already doing stellar work at CMS: Saving taxpayer dollars by cracking down on fraud and implementing delivery-system reforms that will save billions in excess costs and save millions of lives,” Cherlin said in a statement to the New York Times.

Berwick’s past statements of support for Great Britain's National Health Service and his call for "rationing with our eyes open" created controversy when he took the lead at CMS, which manages about 100 million individuals. 
Nothing  further has been heard on a possible confirmation hearing with the Senate Finance Committee.  Dr. Berwick stated he is willing to talk with any senators who signed onto last week’s letter.

President Obama re-nominated Dr. Berwick at the end of January. His recess appointment allows him to serve through the end of this year.

Changes in the industry continue to be opportunities for Merrill.  As individuals come and go in the political arena, we know we must adapt quickly to these moves and look for methods of strengthening and improving communication to our clients and their membership. Working together to inform one another of changes will help us remain informed and progressive thought leaders.

Pam Argeris is a thought leader in the Healthcare Industry and possesses extensive, hands-on experience with CMS compliance, and multiple regulatory bodies such as NCQA, JACHO, and DOI. In her role at Merrill Corp., Pam focuses on developing solutions for compliance and quality assurance, delivered in a cost effective manner to improve beneficiary and prospect communications. You can contact Pam at

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