Former CMS chief: Leaders in Washington 'bend the truth and rewrite facts'

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"I watched fear grow on both sides of the political aisle," he said. "Fear of authentic questions, fear of reasoned debate, and fear of tomorrow morning's headlines."

Berwick's tenure began shortly after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

He was widely denounced by Republicans after praising the British healthcare system and for the remark, "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." 

Berwick appeared to address the controversy prompted by that comment his speech.

In Washington, he said, "I heard meaningless, cynical accusations about rationing repeated over and over again by the same people who then unsheathed their knives to cut Medicaid."

Referring to a refrain popularized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), he went on: "I heard irresponsible, cruel, baseless rhetoric about death panels silence mature, compassionate, scientific inquiry into the care we all need and want in the last stages of our lives."

Berwick has long been vocal about his belief that healthcare should be treated as a human right.

"Health care is a human right; it must be made so in our nation; and it is your duty to make it so," he told the graduating medical students.

"It is time to recover and celebrate a moral vocabulary in our nation — one that speaks without apology or hesitation of the right to health care — the human right."

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) included the speech in Tuesday's Congressional Record. 

"If Dr. Berwick doesn't embody the spirit we want for our medical professionals — as well as our public servants — I don't know who does," he said.

"Driving people like Dr. Berwick out of public service is not something of which anyone should be proud."