Berwick’s First Hearing Marked By Strong Defense Of Health Law, GOP ‘Relative Gentleness’
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Dr. Donald Berwick survived his first Senate hearing yesterday by rebutting criticism of the health law and because Republicans were "relatively gentle," The New York Times reports. "The session, in front of the Senate Finance Committee, was a bit of a warm-up for the inquisition he is likely to face next year before House committees controlled by the Republicans." For instance, Republicans didn't bring up Berwick's praise of the British health system. For his part Berwick said repeal of the health law "would be a terrible thing," and said the law "will not ration care" (Pear, 11/17).
"But the tightly orchestrated hearing left Republicans complaining they were only given a nibble at his record," The Associated Press reports. "GOP senators were skeptical of Berwick's assurances. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who next year will be the committee's senior Republican, said the 90-minute hearing did not allow enough time to explore complicated questions. 'This is pathetic,' said Hatch" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 11/17).
Los Angeles Times: Speaking about GOP repeal effort, Berwick also said: "It would mean that seniors would not be getting the 50% discount on prescription drugs. Would we tell them that they will not be able to afford life-saving medicine? Would we tell them they would not be getting life-saving access to preventive services? That we won't work on safer care?" Berwick was appointed by Presdident Obama in July and wasn't confirmed by the Senate (Levey, 11/18).
NPR offers some background: "Berwick, trained as a pediatrician, had faced what promised to be a bruising confirmation battle. Republicans made it clear they would reopen the debate about health overhaul and also challenge some of Berwick's own voluminous writings as a Harvard professor and health policy expert." In yesterday's hearing, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is retiring, asked Berwick why he'd accepted the recess appointment in the first place. Berwick replied simply, "The reason I accepted is because the president asked me, and I want to serve this country" (Rovner, 11/17).
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports, "Democrats used the hearing to spotlight the benefits of the health law passed in March, asking Dr. Berwick to explain the consequences of a Republican campaign to peel back the law. He responded by asking whether seniors would be upset if they lost benefits of the law, such as Medicare's coverage of preventive care without co-payments and rebate checks to cover a gap in Medicare prescription-drug coveraage [sic]" (Adamy, 11/17).
Bloomberg: Berwick said the health law is "the best opportunity in a generation to make progress" on health care improvement. In explaining his plan for implementing the overhaul, he preempted the GOP questions about rationing - questions that did not materialize in the hearing - by saying, "My principle is that patients should get all of the care they want and need, when and how they want and need it" (Wayne, 11/17).
Related audio: Health on the Hill: KHN's Mary Agnes Carey talks about the Berwick hearing. KHN also includes a transcript.email subscription.