This afternoon, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) chief Don Berwick announced that he would resign next week, following strong Republican opposition to his recess appointment and slim chances of winning Senate confirmation for a full term. The former pediatrician and Harvard professor — who has spent his career developing ways to improve care quality — came under intense criticism from Republicans for praising the British health care system and suggesting that the government should play a larger role in controlling health care spending.
Berwick’s resignation is not a reflection on his performance. He has overseen crucial initial reforms and established a vision that will help the agency — and his replacement Marilyn Tavenner — move forward in implementing the reform. But Republicans lined up against him in order to rally their base and shift the conversation from job creation to tearing down Obama’s signature accomplishment during an election year. Their criticism had less to do with concerns about “rationing” of care and more with preventing the Affordable Care Act from succeeding in lowering health care spending.
After all, it was the current Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich who in 2000 and then again in his 2006 book “Saving Lives & Saving Money” praised Berwick for his passionate belief that quality-care focused systems improve health outcomes and reduce health care spending — and many other conservatives (including former Bush health officials) shared and espoused this vision. From Gingrich’s 2000 editorial:
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.
Berwick fell to the right’s hyper politicization of health care reform and his decision to step down serves as another example of Republicans turning their backs on their own ideas in order to attack the president and his health care law.