Dr. Don Berwick to Become Medicare Director? If It’s True, This Is Wonderful News

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.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Don Berwick to Become Medicare Director? If It’s True, This Is Wonderful News

  1. Agree, this is wonderful news.
    A confirmation battle? Berwick is the closest thing to a guy who walks on water… what would be the issues in a confirmation hearing?

  2. Berwick is amazing but it seems as though Boston is becoming the center of our healthcare public policy for the new Administration and they sadly have some of the highest cost care in the country and don’t reflect the reality in terms of resources in the rest of the US. Over treated, poor chronic care, little coordination, they can’t even exchange electronic records across the street most of the time. But Berwick would be a game changer, incredibly well liked, effective and knows what we need to do to improve health care for everyone

  3. Please write about the Medicaid Institutes for Mental (IMD) Exclusion. This discriminatory Medcaid law has been on the books since the mid 1960s when we mistakenly thought that with enough medication, everyone with a mental illness can recover and live independently within the community.
    Our collective misguided well-intentions has lead to throwing the baby out with the bath water. The sickest of the sick, those who not only don’t understand they are sick, and are completely treatment resistant and chronically ill, were released into a community mental health system that does not work for them.
    The community mental health system only works for the people who have the ability to navigate the maze of rules and regulations the system requires. This doesn’t work for the “sickest of the sick”.
    The Medicaid IMD Exclusion is largely responsible for the homelessness, incarceration and death that people like my brother Paul face today.
    Please click on my name for more information.