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Berwick's Recess Appointment Avoids A Nasty Confirmation Fight

Don Berwick, the Harvard pediatrician and advocate of quality health care, will be appointed by President Obama to oversee the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid in a recess break, as a way to avoid a nasty confirmation battle with GOP lawmakers, reports the Boston Globe.

Berwick, who runs the Cambridge-based Institute For Healthcare Improvement, which backs novel approaches to making medical care both better and more affordable, has been attacked by Republicans for comments he's made about his fondness for Britain's national health system and about "rationing" health care. Democrats, and health policy experts in general say the attacks are completely without merit and that Berwick is uniquely qualified to run the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.

Still, by appointing Berwick during a Congressional recess, Obama can avoid a prickly fight, writes The Globe's Susan Mulligan:

The recess appointment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services means Obama won’t have to subject his nominee to promised Republican grilling of Berwick in nomination hearings, because appointments made during official congressional breaks do not require a vote. The agency has not had a permanent director since 2006.

“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. 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,’’ Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, wrote on his blog last night...

But Republican foes, who had been planning for months to wage an attack on Berwick and, by extension, the health care overhaul, were outraged. Seizing on some of Berwick’s writings, they were preparing to question him on what they called his support for “rationing’’ health care and his admiration of Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which Republicans deride as overly bureaucratic.

For more information, read Kaiser Health News' Resource Guide to Berwick.

This program aired on July 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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