House Committee Grills CMS Chief on Rationing, British Health System
On Thursday, CMS Administrator Donald Berwick testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the progress of the federal health reform law, Politico reports.
The hearing was the first opportunity House members have had to question Berwick since President Obama used recess appointment procedures in July 2010 to appoint Berwick, bypassing the normal confirmation process (Haberkorn/Coughlin, Politico, 2/10).
Since Berwick's nomination was announced in April 2010, Republicans have alleged that he supports rationing care and the socialization of the U.S. health care system and complained that they have had few opportunities to question him (California Healthline, 1/27).
At the House hearing, GOP lawmakers asked Berwick to:
- Describe the law's affect on Medicare Advantage plans;
- Pinpoint any provisions he does not like;
- Provide his true feelings on health care rationing; and
- Defend favorable comments he has made about the British national health care system.
Although a CMS actuary predicted that MA enrollment would decrease by 7.4 million beneficiaries under the reform law, with enrollment dips beginning this year, Berwick said the estimations are incorrect. He said, "I have the facts on the ground before me now," adding, "Medicare Advantage is looking stronger and stronger."
According to Berwick, beneficiaries have seen an average 6% decrease in premiums, and the number of beneficiaries currently in four- and five-star-rated MA plans has increased by 5% since last year.
Berwick's testimony comes after written testimony submitted by America's Health Insurance Plans warned of future disruption to the program because the overhaul calls for more than $200 billion in cuts over the next 10 years (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/10).
Berwick did not provide any examples of provisions in the health care overhaul he does not like (Politico, 2/10).
Instead, he said that the reform law is working and that it "is giving Americans more freedom in their health care choices and more security in their coverage" (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 2/10).
When asked about reports that he supports rationing, Berwick said, "I abhor rationing" (Politico, 2/10). He noted that he has spent his "entire life" combating the practice (Millman, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/10).
Regarding the British National Health Service, Berwick said it has its "strengths and weakness," noting that instead of following Britain with a nationalized model, the U.S. should embrace a "public and private partnership" (Politico, 2/10).