Obama CMS pick Donald Berwick: Don’t put faith in free markets

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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The Harvard professor who on Tuesday President Obama appointed to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Donald Berwick, once said there’s no evidence that free-market alternatives “lead to the health-care system you want and need.”

Republicans will not have the chance to question Berwick, who also reportedly admires England’s socialized health-care system, before he takes office because Obama granted the appointment during the July 4 congressional recess, which allows appointees to temporarily avoid Senate confirmation.

“I find little evidence anywhere that market forces bluntly used — that is just consumer choice among an array of products, competitors fighting it out — leads to the health-care system you want and need,” Berwick said in a healthpolicy-news.com video, posted online by a conservative blogger Wednesday.


“Please don’t put your faith in market forces,” Berwick said then. “It is a popular idea that Adam Smith’s invisible hand would do a better job of designing care than leaders with plans can do. I do not agree.”

Berwick, Harvard University professor who is also a physician, could not be reached for comment.

To stay in office, Berwick will have to be approved by the Senate by the end of the next calendar year. The temporary appointment is helpful for Democrats, who likely want to avoid a reopening of the health-care debate during confirmation hearings immediately before the 2010 elections.

High-profile Republicans have opposed Berwick’s June nomination, pointing out comments made last year by the doctor where he said, “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open. And right now, we are doing it blindly.”

On Wednesday, Republicans did not hide their displeasure with the appointment. “Here they go again, thumbing their noses at the American people, jamming through a controversial nominee to oversee Medicare cuts in the new health care law,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said “Obama chose to circumvent the Senate and the American people” by his appointment of “Berwick, to head one of the most powerful agencies in the Washington.”

“No Senator – Democrat or Republican – was given the chance to ask Dr. Berwick about his strong support of Britain’s single-payer National Health Service or his belief that government delivers higher quality care than the private sector,” he said. “The American people have the right to understand the views of a man who will be implementing the single largest expansion of the federal government in a generation before being appointed to such a powerful position.”

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