Republicans Recycle Their ‘Rationing’ Talking Point To Attack CMS Nominee Berwick

Our guest blogger is Sonia Sekhar, a research assistant for Health Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. TP intern DJ Carella provided research assistance for this post.

Last night, Senate Republicans launched their opening salvo against Don Berwick, President Obama’s nominee to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Recycling old talking points from the health care debate, the GOP ripped into Berwick’s association with the British health care system and argued that he would “explicitly advocate for rationing”:

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think many of us are alarmed by this nominee’s focus on the British System, where government makes decision for people on their care.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS): Dr. Berwick is a huge fan of the British National Healthcare System, called the NHS, a system that relies on rationing health care to hold down costs. … Dr. Berwick is the perfect nominee for a president whose aim has always been to save money by rationing health care.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): So when you think about that, as a patient in the United States, you say “do I really want Dr. Berwick? Do I want someone who is in love with the National Health Service of Britain? Someone who says they have incredible respect for the way it works and thinks its the right way to go.” Why would an American citizen want that person to be in charge of Medicare and Medicaid for this country?

Watch it:

The GOP is using Berwick’s nomination to make their case against the health care law ahead of the midterm elections. But here again the GOP is purposely conflating managing health care services and containing health care spending with malicious rationing.

As for Berwick himself, the former Harvard professor has spent his career helping hospitals control costs and has built a reputation of finding innovative ways of squeezing value out of every health care dollar. His approach — which is based on the idea that “less intensive, less invasive — and less expensive — healthcare can sometimes be more effective than the most aggressive care” — is nothing like the one-size-fits all government-takeover caricature.

“I think he’s a great guy and a great pick for that kind of big-picture reformation thing,” Bush’s former CMS head Tom Scully told the Wonk Room.

Ultimately, the CMS administrator will be contained by the law. By not confirming Don Berwick, the GOP is hurting Medicare and Medicaid’s abilities to serve their over 80 million beneficiaries well. As Tom Scully said at a recent Health Affairs Round table “…there’s a lot of discussion that [Don Berwick] won’t be confirmed for months, that it will be political; that’s really a shame, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Ninety-five percent of this job is not, in my opinion, political. Ninety-five percent of it is just making the trains run on time and making these programs run, and it’s crazy not to have somebody in there day to day, steering the ship.”