Donald Berwick, temporary Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will testify tomorrow before the Senate Finance Committee. This will be the first opportunity for Senators to question this controversial figure. President Obama used his power of the recess appointment to place Berwick into the CMS position without action by the United States Senate. This will be a great opportunity for members of the committee to ask Berwick whether breast and colon cancer patients should be denied critical care because of the cost of treatment.
Politico reports that Congress is going to subject Berwick to some tough questioning:
When Medicare head Donald Berwick makes his first Capitol Hill appearance this week, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, he may feel akin to a rookie matador entering his first bullfight — waving a red cape at an angry bull.
Senators are worried about Berwick, because he never testified in public to explain his radical views on the proper role of the federal government in dispensing health care.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tells Politico that Berwick needs to shed some light on what CMS is going to do in preparation for the implementation of ObamaCare:
Dr. Berwick was recess appointed before he had even a nomination hearing before the committee of jurisdiction. The public doesn’t have any insight into his thinking on anything. The hearing will offer a chance to shed some light on what CMS is doing to prepare for some of the biggest changes in the history of modern health care. It’s overdue, and it should be the first of many.
Berwick is a leading proponent of rationing of medical care in the United States. As I wrote in Human Events in July of this year:
Regarding end-of-life care, he told the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2002 that “most people who have serious pain do not need advanced methods, they just need the morphine and counseling that have been available for centuries.”
Berwick should be asked about end of life issues and his love of the British system of health care. More from my Human Event column.
The doctor also professed his love for Britain’s Socialist healthcare system and favors a single-payer government-run system for Americans. He wrote in 1996 that “I admit to my own devotion to a single-payer mechanism as the only sensible approach to healthcare finance that I can think of.”
Senators have a constitutional obligation to get Berwick’s views on the record and the questioning is expected to be intense. Berwick has called the Brit National Health Service, loaded with rationing of treatment and care, “one of the greatest health care institutions in human history.” He sees it as an example for how the United States should handle health care.
Berwick’s extreme views necessitated a recess appointment by President Obama. This appointment bypassed the Senate confirmation process. It avoided hearings and a full debate on Berwick's suitability to serve as head of CMS. Conservatives worry that this bypassing of the regular appointment process was due to the possibility that Berwick was too extreme to be confirmed to a Senate approved appointment as head of CMS.
Berwick is expected to argue that ObamaCare does not ration care. The Hill reports:
Medicare administrator Donald Berwick will testify Wednesday that the Democrats' healthcare law does not ration care nor cut guaranteed Medicare benefits, according to his prepared remarks. "The Affordable Care Act does not prescribe a 'one size fits all' approach to health care," Berwick says in prepared remarks obtained by The Hill, "because health care is first and foremost about caring for unique individuals."
The evidence is mounting to the to the contrary. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has paved the path for Berwick in an decision on whether breast cancer patients should be denied access to the last-stage cancer drug Avastin because of its cost. The FDA seems inclined to do so. Another example is the CMS's treatment of the prostate cancer drug Provenge. In both cases, critics worry that cost is becoming the deciding factor in delisting and denying access to these drugs.
ObamaCare may lead to rationing. Americans worry that rationing of drugs and care will be a real threat to the American people. Before ObamaCare, our system the envy of the world, but many worry that a government centered health care delivery system will end that envy. Donald Berwick's answers to questions affords Senators the opportunity to put a rationing proponent on the record and to see if he retains a government centered approach to very personal health care decisions.
Does Berwick believe that breast and colon cancer patients should be denied critical care because of the cost of treatment? The answer to that question will be very important to understand where the Obama Administration plans to go with the vast powers delegated to Berwick as Rationer-In-Chief of the federal government.