Republicans have long opposed Dr. Don Berwick, the current head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, pointing to the Harvard professor’s respect for the British health care system and other European models as evidence that he supports “socialized medicine” and would support government-centered rationing of health care in the United States. “I believe the President of the United States now has what he wants, his health care rationing czar,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said on the floor of the Senate. “We have a president — a president-appointed czar, essentially a czar to ration health care.” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) expressed similar outrage after Berwick was nominated for the position, saying, “Dr. Berwick is the perfect nominee for a president whose aim has always been to save money by rationing health care.”
But not all prominent Republicans oppose Berwick. In fact, it turns out that 2012 presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was once a strong promoter of the CMS administrator, praising Berwick for what Republicans are now characterizing as “rationing” — his work to improve the quality of the nation’s health care system. In early part of the last decade, Gingrich “gave credibility and visibility to a set of ideas being talked about in the health policy world about using information technology to improve medical care.” He advocated “reforms such as ‘data-driven reimbursement’ informed by best practices, a national electronic health network and a focus on prevention and wellness. All those items — and others Gingrich supported — are contained in the HITECH Act, part of the budget stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act,” Michael Millenson notes.
An Amazon search of Gingrich’s “Saving Lives & Saving Money” reveals three separate references to Berwick — who was and still is a national leader in improving health care quality — in which Gingrich praises the current CMS head for his passionate belief that quality-care focused systems improve health outcomes and reduce health care spending. Gingrich even included a plug for Berwick’s nonprofit, the Institute for Health Improvement, reprinting the organization’s website on page 122 of his book. In an August 2000 Washington Post op-ed calling on President Bill Clinton to “stop defending inefficiency and to drag health care into the 21st century by insisting on modern management and information systems,” Gingrich singled out Berwick for spreading the word about “quality control”:
The Veterans Administration’s Palo Alto Health Care System is creating a computerized patient medical record system. The new Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago was designed from its conception to be a safer, more accurate and more electronic facility. Don Berwick at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has worked for years to spread the word that the same systematic approach to quality control that has worked so well in manufacturing could create a dramatically safer, less expensive and more effective system of health and health care.
In July of 2010, however, Gingrich slammed President Obama for recess appointing Berwick to CMS, describing the decision as “a sad mistake” and used Berwick’s appointment as evidence for how “left” Obama is.
“I described it as a secular Socialist machine in a book I wrote recently. And I think what you saw [Obama] do with Dr. Berwick is a good example of machine behavior,” Gingrich said during a July 8, 2010 appearance on The O’Reilly Factor. He added: “Among the elites, there will be great applause for Don Berwick. Among the rest of the country, there will be a very chilly attitude that says is this guy really going to try to impose a British national healthcare system in America? And so, there’s a real split emerging in the country. But among the people in the White House, my hunch is almost all of them uniformly agree with what he’s doing and uniformly believe that somehow they’ll find a way to sell it.”