WASHINGTON — President Obama will use the congressional recess to bypass the Senate and appoint Harvard Professor Donald Berwick tomorrow to oversee Medicare and Medicaid, a White House official said tonight.
Berwick, a pediatrician and president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a not-for-profit organization in Cambridge, is widely respected by many veteran policy officials, but Republicans, calling him an advocate of “rationing’’ health care, had been expected to grill him on his views during his confirmation hearing. GOP leaders had also intimated they would use the hearings as a forum to reopen the battle on President Obama’s health care law.
Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, revealed the decision, known as a recess appointment, on the White House website. Lawmakers are on their annual Fourth of July break.
In vowing to fight his nomination, GOP lawmakers have cited Berwick’s support for controlling costs and his statements praising aspects of the United Kingdom’s national health system. They contend his positions show that he would seek to transform US health care into a tightly controlled system, reducing patient choices and delaying treatments.
In a speech before the Senate in May, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Berwick of being an “expert on rationing.’’
By lauding the United Kingdom’s National Health System, McConnell said, Berwick “is applauding a system where care is delayed, denied, or rationed.’’
Last night, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming issued a prompt response to the White House move:
“This recess appointment is an insult to the American people. Dr. Berwick is a self professed supporter of rationing health care and he won’t even have to explain his views to the American people in a hearing. Once again, President Obama has made a mockery of his pledge to be accountable and transparent.’’
As head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Berwick would administer an agency with 4,500 employees and an annual budget of $780 billion. The agency oversees the government health insurance programs for the elderly, the poor, and the disabled and will be a critical player in the health care overhaul law, which includes a massive expansion of Medicaid for low-income people and about $400 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next 10 years.
A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, the 63-year-old Berwick, who lives in Cambridge, is a professor at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. In addition to his job running the 111-employee Institute for Healthcare Policy Improvement, he is a consultant in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital.
About Political Intelligence
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.