KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Axelrod: Berwick Recess Appointment Intended To Avoid ‘Political Circus’

On Sunday's talk shows, top Obama adviser David Axelrod said the president's decision to appoint Donald Berwick, a doctor and Harvard professor, to run the federal Medicare and Medicaid agency, was meant to avoid a "political circus" as elections near, The Wall Street Journal reports. Axelrod also said Berwick "is not coming to implement the British system," in an attempt to dispel Republican criticisms that Berwick is an advocate of rationing health care (Hughes, 7/11). 

ABC News: "This morning on ABC News' 'This Week,' Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod insisted that President Obama's recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to be the administrator of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was simply 'too important' to wait for a Congressional hearing" (Tapper, 7/11).

The Hill: Axelrod "brushed off questions about concerns the administration would have had subjecting Berwick to congressional scrutiny, given Berwick's past statements about being 'romantic' about the nationalized healthcare system in Britain and his 2009 statement that 'the decision is not whether or not we will ration care – the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open." The Hill reports that Axelrod added "that it was 'vital' to fill the position and 'move forward'" (Johnson, 7/11).

Politico: Axelrod "struggled" while trying to make the point that the appointment "was needed because of a pattern of Republican intransigence toward Obama nominees." ABC host Jake Tapper noted that "Berwick hadn't even had his confirmation hearing after being nominated less than two months ago" and suggested that the administration was concerned that Berwick would be attacked. "Axelrod eventually conceded that the administration was trying to take the issue out of the political fray" (Gerstein, 7/11).

Fox News: Axelrod was also on "Fox News Sunday," where he sought to calm Berwick's critics, saying "He is not coming to implement the British system." Axelrod noted "that Berwick has also criticized elements of the British system." But Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Republicans are angry about the appointment and Berwick "is not the right man for the job." He "accused the administration of ducking a robust public debate." (7/11). 

The Washington Times: "Mr. Obama has come under fierce criticism, including from a key Democratic committee chairman, after he bypassed the Senate" by making the recess appointment. "The appointment has been criticized by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, whose committee had jurisdiction and who said the move denied senators the chance to have their questions asked and answered" (Dinan, 7/11).

Meanwhile, Modern Healthcare reports, "Those who know Donald Berwick don't understand what all the fuss is about." Though Republicans saw his nomination as an opportunity to revive debate over the recent health overhaul law, "the appointment was hailed in a flurry of support from other healthcare industry representatives and consumer groups." Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said, Berwick "has dedicated his career to engaging hospitals, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to improve patient care" (DoBias, 7/12).

KHN has a resource guide detailing Berwick's background, a collection of his speeches and writings and related news coverage, as well as a transcript of his now-controversial speech to the British National Health Service.

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