KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Republicans Demand Hearing On CMS Head Berwick, Block Other Nominees

Senate Republicans are still angry over President Obama's recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Politico: "Republicans on the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the post, say that not holding a hearing with Berwick would 'result in circumventing the open public review that should take place for a nomination of such importance' and 'casts a shadow over his legitimacy and authority to serve as administrator during a critical time for CMS.' They argue in a letter to Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that Berwick needs to answer questions raised about his qualifications - namely, question they have regarding his statements in support of the British health care system and rationing. The letter was signed by all 10 Republicans on the committee." Baucus, who earlier said he was "troubled" that Berwick didn't go through the standard procedure. The White House  defends the recess appointment, Politico reports: "calling Berwick to a hearing would give Republicans an opportunity to reopen the bitter politics of the health reform debate" (Haberkorn, 7/14).

The Hill: Baucus' office said Wednesday that "the Montana Democrat 'fully expects' new Medicare chief ... Berwick to testify before the panel 'in the near future'" (Lillis, 7/14).

CQ Politics: Meanwhile, the 15 Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to Chairman Sander Levin asking for a hearing, saying "their concerns with Berwick were heightened because some Medicare spending faces cuts under the overhaul law. They also echoed a concern often expressed by Senate Republicans - that Berwick supports rationing of health care services. At issue is his support for comparative effectiveness research, which is aimed at determining which treatments and medicines are most effective when compared with others" (7/14).

Roll Call:Senate Republicans also are retaliating by blocking other approvals. "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to the request regarding [two] nominees to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was offered by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). He offered a lengthy objection that he said was based on Obama's use of a recess appointment to install Donald Berwick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as well as previous Democratic objections to judicial nominees to the 4th Circuit made by President George W. Bush" (Drucker, 7/14).

The Hill, in a separate story: "'Democrats didn't schedule so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick,' McConnell said. 'The mere possibility of allowing the American people the opportunity to hear what he intends to do with their health care was evidently reason enough for this Administration to sneak him through without public scrutiny'" (Bolton, 7/14).

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