CMS chief to face House grilling

President Obama’s Medicare chief, whom Republicans have been waiting to interrogate, will make his first appearance before what will likely be a hostile House panel Thursday morning.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Don Berwick will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday about the healthcare reform law’s impact on Medicare, but Republican lawmakers will have a lot to get off their chests.

Berwick’s nomination became a lightning rod for the Obama administration after his controversial recess appointment last July. Since his nomination, Republicans have seized on Berwick’s past statements that the government should “ration [care] with our eyes open.” Republicans say those statements and the reform law’s cuts in Medicare payments indicate Berwick’s goal to limit expensive care to seniors.

The administration renominated Berwick last month after President Obama’s State of the Union address, sparking a new wave of Republican criticism.

“A day after the president committed to coming together to move our country forward, he’s chosen to renominate one of his most contentious nominees to head an agency that impacts the lives of more than 100 million Americans,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said at the time.

On Thursday, Berwick will likely be grilled about his personal healthcare views, as well as parts of the reform law that Republicans say have revealed the overhaul’s flaws. This includes more than 700 waivers that have been granted to organizations for the law’s annual coverage limit requirements and significantly low enrollment in new high-risk insurance pools.

The CMS chief actuary, Rick Foster, will testify in a separate session Thursday morning. Republicans have seized on Foster’s comments that the reform law likely won’t hold costs down and some will be forced to change their insurance.