Last year, in a highly irregular maneuver, President Obama took advantage of a brief Senate recess to appoint Donald Berwick as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a.k.a. CMS, which controls a budget larger than that of the Defense Department. This avoided a public Senate hearing, where Berwick’s controversial views would have been further explored. (I never tire of quoting Berwick’s eloquent opposition to the “darkness of private enterprise.”)
A few weeks back, I discussed the re-nomination of Berwick to the post. Now comes word, via Brett Coughlin of Politico, that Senate Democrats “have given up on confirming Don Berwick as CMS administrator in the wake of a letter from 42 Republican senators opposing the nomination.” If Berwick isn’t confirmed by the Senate, according to Coughlin, he will have to move out of his office by the end of this year.
I think this is best for everyone. Berwick can go back to Harvard, where he will receive a hero’s welcome for all he has done on behalf of progressive health policy. He’ll be free once again to say what he really thinks, instead of having to kow-tow to the niceties of public sentiment. Meanwhile, CMS will get a proper bureaucrat, who will continue to implement Obamacare as if nothing happened.
President Obama’s appointment of Don Berwick served a useful purpose: It highlighted both Obama’s true views about health policy, and the broader goals that underlie Obamacare. I doubt Berwick’s departure will have much effect on what Obama’s CMS actually strives to achieve.