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D.C. Report: CMS Administrator Donald Berwick Testifies Before Congress

November 23, 2010
by Sharon Canner, Sr. Director of Advocacy
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CMS Administrator Berwick Testifies before Finance. Making his first appearance before Congress since being appointed by President Barack Obama, Donald Berwick, M.D., administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), testified earlier this week on “ Strengthening Medicare and Medicaid: Taking Steps to Modernize America’s Health Care System.” Berwick came to the CMS in April under the recess appointment procedures that bypassed the usual Congressional hearings and Senate confirmation as a result of Senate GOP opposition to his nomination. His main focus this week was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he indicated would result in better standards of care and reporting, better quality and improved innovation. “The American people,” said Berwick, “are already benefiting from the ACA.” For example, he cited a 50-percent discount on brand name prescription drugs in the coverage gap for eligible Medicare beneficiaries. GOP Senators warned they intended to call him back for future testimony and told him to expect strong oversight of the ACA and its implementation costs. There was no mention of the Medicare and Medicaid Incentive Program or health IT, either in the testimony or the questions. Given certain campaign promises to take back unspent stimulus funds, the lack of mention was probably a positive.

President Obama’s choice of Dr. Berwick was seen as a smart move given his background. Donald Berwick is the founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and had spent decades as a practicing physician and a Harvard professor with a reputation for finding ways to make the health care system work better for patients. He had support from hundreds of health care groups and experts, including AARP, the American Medical Association, and former CMS administrator Mark McClellan, M.D., who served under President George W. Bush.