WASHINGTON -- Harvard Medical School professor Donald Berwick's nomination to run the nation's Medicare and Medicaid programs is now official.
President Obama, whose staff several weeks ago floated Berwick's name to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, made the formal announcement Monday afternoon. Berwick, the president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, now must convince a US Senate still bitterly divided over the health care overhaul law to confirm him to the job.
Berwick's fans credit him with what they call innovative ideas to lower health care costs while maintaining quality care. That approach, supporters say, is critical in the next decade, when Medicare funding is set to be shrunk by $400 billion while Medicaid, the program for the poor and disabled, will undergo its biggest expansion in history.
"Dr. Berwick has dedicated his career to improving outcomes for patients and providing better care at lower cost," Obama said in a statement. "Thatís one of the core missions facing our next CMS Administrator, and Iím confident that Don will be an outstanding leader for the agency and the millions of Americans it serves."
The American Medical Association also welcomed Berwick's nomination, calling the Harvard professor and pediatrician "widely known and well-respected for his visionary leadership efforts that focus on optimizing the quality and safety of patient care in hospitals and across health care settings."
The AARP, a powerful seniors' lobby, also hailed the pick.
"Dr. Berwickís expertise on health care innovation and his dedication to quality improvement and patient safety would benefit the millions of low-income and older Americans served by Medicare and Medicaid," said John Rother, the group's executive vice president.
However, Berwick could face a tough nomination fight. His cost-cutting ideas could be seen as rationing, leading the Senate to revisit discredited claims that the health care law will include "death panels" assigned to deciding who lives and who dies. Republican aides are also scouring Berwick's writings, looking for controversial rhetoric.
Even if Berwick himself does not draw partisan attacks, his nomination hearings provide the Senate with another platform to fight about health care overhaul, an issue Republicans believe will be key to depleting Democratic majorities in Congress in this November's elections.
Berwick declined to comment pending his nomination hearings. His spokesman, Jesse duPont, said Berwick "is honored to be nominated and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement is gratified that a leader in health care quality improvement has been recognized by the Obama administration as a strong candidate to head up CMS."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.