White House to hold private meetings with Medicare head on healthcare law

The White House has invited stakeholders to discuss the healthcare law with the administration's controversial appointee to head Medicare.

According to a memo obtained by The Hill, the event on Friday with Medicare Administrator Donald Berwick at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House will be the first of several meetings on healthcare's implementation to be hosted by administration officials. 

The invitation from administration health policy adviser Zeke Emanuel, former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's brother, marks a renewed outreach to industry stakeholders from a White House that had initially promised to keep lobbyists at arm's length. The invitations for Friday's kick-off meeting were sent to specialty medical societies, which have a lobbying component, according to several sources.

"We are kicking off a series of White House meetings between senior administration officials and healthcare providers to exchange ideas on areas in need of attention," Emanuel wrote in the invitation. "We invite you (or a representative) and your organization to join us."

The meeting comes as a number of lobbyists say they've noticed more White House outreach toward K Street in the wake of the midterm elections.

Republicans condemned the meeting in an e-mail circulating the White House invitation. 

"For a White House that promised 'an unmatched level of transparency, participation and accountability,' the administration's actions show a continued fondness for closed-door sessions," the e-mail said.

Republicans are still seeking access to Berwick after his testimony before Congress last month  — his first Capitol Hill appearance since his July recess appointment. Republicans after the hearing complained they were not given enough time to question Berwick about his views on healthcare rationing. 

The White House said talking to stakeholders will ensure the law is as good as it can be.

"The administration is focused on implementing the health reform law, and we will continue to seek input from experts across the country," said an administration official. "Just as we engage with members of Congress, we believe it’s critical to seek input from providers and leaders in the medical community. Listening to doctors, academic leaders and other experts has been and will continue to be one of our top priorities."

— Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.