Berwick Officially Sworn In as CMS Leader Amid Reform Rollout
On Monday in Boston, Donald Berwick was sworn in as CMS administrator by HHS Regional Director Chris Hager, according to a CMS spokesperson, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 7/12).
Berwick, who served as president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and a Harvard University professor, is the first permanent CMS administrator since Mark McClellan stepped down from the role in 2006 and will lead the implementation of many of the new health reform law's broad changes, including expanding Medicaid and controlling Medicare costs.
President Obama last week chose to bypass Congress and use a "recess appointment" to name Berwick as CMS administrator.
As a recess appointee, Berwick will have all the powers of a permanent appointee, but serve only until the end of the 111th Congress. He then must be re-nominated and confirmed by the Senate (California Healthline, 7/7).
Helps To Unveil 'Meaningful Use' Regulations
On Tuesday, Berwick made his first public appearance as CMS administrator at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., to help release the final rule defining how health care providers can demonstrate "meaningful use" of health information technology in order to qualify for federal incentive payments.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin also attended the event (CQ HealthBeat, 7/12).
GOP Resists Appointment
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, on Monday said that he is concerned that donations made to IHI from health care companies might constitute financial conflicts of interest for Berwick.
Donors to the institute include Kaiser Permanente, the BlueCross BlueShield Association and Baxter International.
Grassley said, "One of the reasons for vetting nominees is to look at who funds a nominee's compensation, to identify possible conflicts of interest and to make sure the nominee will serve in the best interest of taxpayers," adding that Obama's recess appointment of Berwick "was an attempt to short-circuit the official vetting process."
Grassley noted, "I intend to pursue this line of questioning" with Berwick (Ethridge, CQ Today, 7/12).
Meanwhile, Gail Wilensky, who served as CMS administrator under President George W. Bush, said the nature of Berwick's appointment will make him a less effective leader and hurt his relationship with the GOP (Lillis, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/9).
Axelrod Defends Berwick
White House adviser David Axelrod on "Fox News Sunday" defended Berwick against GOP arguments that he favors nationalized health care, a common Republican complaint after Berwick endorsed the U.K.'s health care system.
Axelrod said Berwick "is not coming to implement the British system" in the U.S. (Hughes, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
IHI announced last week that Maureen Bisognano will replace Berwick as president and CEO of the institute.
Bisognano has been the executive vice president and COO of IHI for the past 15 years (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.