Within the past hour both New America Foundation’s Joanne Kenen and Wall Street Journal blog “Washington Wire” have reported the rumor—not yet confirmed—that President Obama has chosen Dr. Donald Berwick, the president and founder of the Institute for HealthCare Improvement (IHI) to become the new director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Readers who have seen Money-Driven Medicine, the documentary based on my book will recognize Berwick’s name: he is one of the stars of the film. (See clips of Berwick from the film, which is being distributed by California Newsreel here. )For more information on the film, go to www.moneydrivenmedicine.org.
Thursday, Inside Health Policy’s Brett Coughlin and Amy Lotven were the first to report the rumor : “According to several Washington sources . . . the White House has picked Harvard professor and pediatrician Donald Berwick to serve as CMS Administrator. A K Street source said that Berwick agreed to take the job ‘some time ago’ but only on the condition that health reform pass first. Although administration officials did not confirm the chatter, sources said that the announcement could come as soon as next week.” (via Politico Pulse)
This makes sense. Not long ago, I wrote about the need for strong leadership at CMS: “For some time, I have argued that I believe that White House health care policy-makers want to select someone strong enough to pursue a relatively radical agenda. My guess is that the White House did not want to face a battle over Senate confirmation of such a candidate while fighting the larger war over healthcare reform.
“Rumors have circulated in Washington for months about who will be offered the position—and who may have already turned it down. All of the names I have heard would be excellent candidates: visionary, experienced, articulate and iconoclastic. They would be willing to break the bureaucratic mold, as needed, discarding worn ideas, embracing new ones and admitting to mistakes along the way, in a process that IHI’s Don Berwick describes as ‘continuous improvement.’
“It is clear that we need a CMS director who will overhaul how we pay for care, penalizing inefficiency, ferreting out fraud, and squeezing out waste, while rewarding better, safer, more collaborative care. . Medicare must pay for Value, not Volume.” For more on Medicare’s new powers under reform, see this HealthBeat post.
As Kennen points out: “For anyone who doubts that the Obama administration is committed to saving Medicare, to delivery-system reform, to controlling costs by improving quality — this is your answer . . . Spend some time browsing the IHI website,” Kennen advises. “ IHI is working, and thinking, and creating and visualizing across the health care spectrum. . . .. And let's hope that the Republican ‘no cooperation’ vow doesn't extend to his confirmation.”
I, too, fear a confirmation hearing could be a battle. But if Berwick is the candidate, he will up to it.
I’ll have more on this story as it unfolds.
Today, Berwick told Washington Wire “It’s rumors,” He declined to say whether he had spoken to the administration about the job and wouldn’t discuss any further details. A CMS official declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to a query.
This is what I would expect Berwick to say. He’s a grown-up: discrete, never coy, not a grand-stander.
Whether it’s Berwick or someone else, former government health policy officials say they expect the White House will fill the position quickly now that the overhaul is law.