Health highlights Wednesday

It will be all Donald Berwick, all day long.

With last night’s White House announcement that President Barack Obama on Wednesday will install the Harvard pediatrician atop the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), there’s certain to be plenty of reaction on Capitol Hill to the controversial recess appointment.

Indeed, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is already calling it “an insult to the American people,” and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) says he’s “deeply disappointed” that Finance Committee lawmakers won’t have a chance to drill the nominee.

Berwick, who founded the Cambridge-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, is something of a legend in health policy circles, and his nomination has received enthusiastic endorsement from just about every stakeholder imaginable in the healthcare arena, as well as the heads of CMS under the Bush administration. 

No matter. 

A number of Senate Republicans have blasted Berwick for comments he made in 2008 in praise of Britain’s nationalized healthcare system. Several Republicans — notably Barrasso, Roberts and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) — have vowed to block his nomination, claiming that he’ll move Medicare toward a system of rationing that would harm seniors. Last night, the White House said they will hop that hurdle Wednesday by bypassing Congress altogether. 

“Many Republicans in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a Tuesday night blog post. “But with the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors’ care under the Affordable Care Act, there’s no time to waste with Washington game-playing.”

As a recess appointment, Berwick’s term will expire when Congress adjourns at the end of 2011.

Speaking of Coburn and Barrasso, the two Republicans are releasing a report Wednesday morning to mark the 100th day since healthcare reform became law. There’s little mystery what side they’ll come down on. The report is titled “Bad Medicine: A check-up on the new federal health law.”

Off the Hill, House Democrats on recess this week are being encouraged to host a series of meetings with constituents to tout the benefits of the new healthcare reform law. The move is an indication that Democratic leaders continue to view those reforms as a political asset this election year, even as Republicans hope it will be an albatross around the majority’s collective neck. 

Elsewhere Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Department’s Advisory Committee on Minority Health meets again to examine health disparities affecting minority communities. Stakeholders in the battle against HIV/AIDS will gather in Washington for the International AIDS Conference. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission will host a discussion on the safety testing of children’s products. 

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