Hospital groups show support for Medicare agency nominee Berwick

The nation's largest hospital groups wrote to the leading Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committees on Monday to reiterate their support for President Barack Obama's nominee to head the agency that oversees Medicare. The two panels are expected to hold hearings on Donald Berwick's nomination in the weeks ahead, a hospital source said, and the groups wanted to be on record with their support before then.

Berwick was nominated to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on April 19, but he has since come under withering criticism from some Republicans for his comments in support of Great Britain's National Health Service. Berwick is president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and is admired by many healthcare experts in academia and the industry.

"Dr. Berwick is a trusted and respected voice within the health care community," reads the letter to the Finance Committee's Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the HELP Committee's Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). "His knowledge of our health care delivery system and how it is influenced by the multiple forces of regulation, payment, transparency and public policy make him well-qualified to implement provisions in the recently enacted health reform law. Dr. Berwick’s experiences from his lifelong quest to find better and safer ways to deliver care will greatly inform and enhance the implementation health care reform."

Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have been his two leading critics, accusing him in particular of wanting to ration care. Asked about the overwhelming support for Berwick among the medical establishment, Barrasso, a former orthopedic surgeon, told The Hill several weeks ago that industry support may not be a selling point the Obama administration wants to tout too loudly in the current political atmosphere.

The letter of support is signed by the American Hospital Association, American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Catholic Health Association of the United States, Federation of American Hospitals, National Association of Children’s Hospitals, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, Premier Inc. and VHA Inc.