Last Friday, 2 December, Dr. Donald M. Berwick resigned his post as administrator designate of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). His interim appointment was due to expire at the end of the year and he resigned because it had become evident that the Republican Congress would never confirm his appointment.
I first heard of Dr. Berwick about 18 months ago when Time Goes By contributor, Saul Friedman, who died in December 2010, hailed Berwick’s recess appointment by President Barack Obama while predicting that Congressional confirmation would be difficult because, wrote Saul,
”…the insurance industry, conservatives who oppose regulations of all kinds and most public health programs, and Republicans in the Congress who seek to privatize Medicare have joined in opposition to the President’s choice to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”
And so The New York Times confirmed in an editorial last week about Berwick’s resignation:
”…a respected expert on health care costs and quality, [Berwick] became a lightning-rod for Republican attacks on health care reform and government entitlement programs.
“Republicans distorted his record and past statements to imply that he would introduce ‘socialized’ medicine and ‘death panels’ and ignored the praise heaped on him by health care professionals and medical organizations.”
As they prove at every opportunity, the Republicans and their health industry campaign contributors will do everything in their vast economic power to see that the status quo, commercial, health system continues to enrich them magnificently.
There might have been a chance to dent that conspiracy if Dr. Berwick had been allowed to head CMS. People like him – smart, knowledgeable, experienced, passionate and compassionate – do not often come along in government service so before he entirely leaves the public arena, I want you to know what kind of man he is.
A pediatrician by training, Dr. Berwick – who became eligible for Medicare this year – has dedicated his career to creating high-quality, patient-centered care as a Harvard professor of pediatrics and health policy and later, as president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a not-for-profit organization helping to lead the improvement of health care throughout the world.
There is an excellent (and long) article by Harris Meyer at Health Affairs about what Berwick accomplished in his short tenure at CMS (a lot). Or you can read a short version at Kaiser Health News but the former will tell you more about the man himself. It is worth your time.
On the day of his departure from CMS, Dr. Berwick spoke with New York Times reporter, Robert Pear, about his tenure at the agency, the Republican attacks against him and his health care policy objectives. Wrote Pear:
“As Medicare chief, he has pushed doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records, merge their operations and coordinate care to eliminate medical errors that kill thousands of patients each year.
“If his estimate is right, Medicare and Medicaid could save $150 billion to $250 billion a year by eliminating waste, which he defines as ‘activities that don’t have any value.'”
Go read more of this “exit interview” here, and for TGB readers living in Ohio and Rhode Island who are keeping track of D.C. players, please note that Berwick
“…said some members of Congress had ‘deep knowledge’ of health care — he mentioned two Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.”
All the above is factual, but to really get a sense of this man and what the country has lost thanks to craven Republicans, you need to watch this interview with Dr. Berwick from last Sunday conducted by one of the best young liberal pundits coming on the scene now.
The United States almost never gets people as qualified, dedicated and decent as Dr. Berwick to serve in government agencies. This is a terrible loss for Medicare, for you, for me, for all Medicare beneficiaries and for the entire American health care system.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Ann Hard: Living in the Moment – Part 2