AAFP Applauds Appointment of Donald Berwick as New CMS Administrator

Administration Declares Recess Appointment Necessary

July 07, 2010 03:45 pm News Staff

The AAFP has praised the appointment of Donald Berwick, M.D., as the new administrator of CMS, saying in a prepared statement that Berwick's medical expertise and commitment to ensuring high quality care for all will serve America well as CMS implements the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"As a research professional, a clinician and a policy analyst, he brings an extensive background that’s crucial to ensuring that health care policy improves patient care and the practice of medicine," said AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C., in the statement. "His leadership has helped ensure that best practices in medical care and groundbreaking medical research are brought to the physicians' offices, and his support for strengthening primary care in the Medicare and Medicaid systems will help set the path for building up the foundation of all high quality health care."

As CMS administrator, Berwick will serve as a key player in overhauling the nation's health care system by overseeing a variety of major tasks associated with the new health care reform law. Those tasks include expanding Medicaid coverage, writing new rules and regulations and establishing pilot projects to test different models of care and payment policies. Heim said the AAFP "looks forward to working with Dr. Berwick as the nation moves forward in ensuring that Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care."

President Obama used a recess appointment to make Berwick the new administrator of CMS on July 7, thereby circumventing a contentious confirmation process for the nomination in the Senate. Although Obama nominated Berwick for CMS administrator in April, Republicans were critical of the choice because they were concerned that Berwick could be a proponent of health care rationing. Republican opposition could have delayed the nomination indefinitely, prompting Obama to make a recess appointment while Congress is out of session.

The Senate had not scheduled hearings on Berwick's nomination, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in The White House blog(www.whitehouse.gov) on July 6 that "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."

In a prepared statement(www.whitehouse.gov), Obama said, "It's unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes." The president said the appointment would allow Berwick to "get to work on behalf of the American people right away."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused the Obama administration of sneaking Berwick through without public scrutiny, saying in a prepared statement(mcconnell.senate.gov) that "the Obama administration intends to arrogantly circumvent the American people yet again by recess appointing one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care to implement their national plan."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the Senate Finance Committee, also criticized the Obama administration for not going through the standard nomination process. In a prepared statement, Baucus said, "Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects ... all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee -- and answered."

Nevertheless, Baucus said, "I look forward to working with CMS as they implement health reform to deliver the better health care outcomes and lower costs for patients we fought to pass in the landmark health reform law."

The AAFP supported the Berwick nomination from the outset, saying in a prepared statement in April that Berwick has "demonstrated a long-standing commitment to building a patient-centered, quality focused and efficient health care system." The Academy also put its signature on two widely circulated sign-on letters to Senate leaders supporting the Berwick nomination.

Berwick is a Harvard University professor and the president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, or IHI, a nonprofit organization in Cambridge, Mass., that advances concepts to improve patient care. He is a strong believer that physicians and hospitals can improve care while reducing medical errors and saving money. The AAFP has a long-standing relationship with Berwick through advocacy efforts in the public and private sectors and through its work and involvement with IHI.