Roberts blasts Obama's pick to oversee Medicare (again)

Sen. Pat Roberts on Sunday reiterated his opposition to Donald Berwick, President Barack Obama's choice to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The Kansas Republican said he fears that Berwick, a Harvard-based physician and founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, would promote a European-style healthcare system intent on rationing treatments. 

"[T]he president promised Americans that the government won’t ration health care," Roberts wrote in an op-ed published in the Kansas City Star. "But now President Obama has nominated Dr. Donald Berwick, a known advocate for government rationing of health care, to head CMS."

The comments — echoes of those that Roberts delivered on the Senate floor last month — are based on a 2008 speech that Berwick delivered to mark the 60th anniversary of Britain's National Health Service (NHS). In those remarks, Berwick cheered the NHS for treating healthcare as a human right, while blasting America's fragmented system for empowering private insurers to deny coverage. As head of CMS, Berwick would oversee the implementation of countless provisions of the Democrats' new healthcare reform law.

The administration has defended Berwick's praise of the NHS, arguing that under the current system, private insurers already ration care. 

"The fact is, rationing is rampant in the system today, as insurers make arbitrary decisions about who can get the care they need," the administration responded last month. "Don Berwick wants to see a system in which those decisions are transparent — and that the people who make them are held accountable.”

But that response has only intensified the opposition of many Republicans to Berwick's nomination. "So the government will, in fact, ration your health care. Transparently," wrote Roberts, who also called for a repeal of the health reform law.  

It remains unclear when the Democrats intend to call a vote on Berwick. There are more than 100 administration nominees currently in line for votes in the Senate, but Republican opposition has stalled them indefinitely.