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BREAKING NEWS: Obama Appoints Berwick to CMS

July 7, 2010
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Using the presidential power of recess appointment, President Barack Obama this morning (July 7) appointed Donald M. Berwick, M.D., of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, to the post of Administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Faced with Senate Republican opposition to Berwick’s appointment, Obama bypassed the Senate confirmation process and put Berwick, 63, a pediatrician, Harvard University professor, and head of a major independent healthcare quality improvement organization, into the open CMS Administrator position.

Because the appointment is a recess appointment, it will be effective only through the late fall of 2011, when the current session of Congress ends. At that point, the President would need to re-nominate Berwick for the post. Obama had announced the nomination in April, but it had been languishing since then.

Some Senate Republicans had vigorously attacked Berwick for statements expressing admiration for the National Health Service of the U.K., and for stating that rationing already implicitly takes place within the U.S. healthcare system, but that health system leaders need to examine how and why we currently ration care, and to figure out ways to create more meaningful policies around care access and delivery.

At the same time that he appointed Berwick to lead CMS, Obama also appointed Philip E. Coyle III as associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Joshua Gotbaum as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Speaking of the three recess appointments today, Obama said in a White House statement, “It’s unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes. These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away.”

CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006. Berwick will oversee an annual budget of $800 billion, and will be an important figure in leading the implementation of key provisions of the comprehensive healthcare reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in late March.

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