Medicare

GOP says Obama avoiding questions about CMS head’s ties to industry

A Republican memo charges the Obama administration with
avoiding questions about its new head of Medicare’s ties to the healthcare
industry.

The memo from a staffer for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)
suggests that by using a recess appointment to place Donald Berwick at the head
of the agency running Medicare, the administration may be avoiding questions
about whether Berwick’s healthcare institute received undisclosed funding from
industry groups. The memo also raises questions with Berwick’s stance on euthanasia.

{mosads}Berwick’s Institute for Healthcare Improvement received more
than $9 million in “gifts” in 2008 and 2009 from unknown donors, according to
Grassley’s office, at the same time that Berwick was being paid a $2.4 million
salary as CEO. Grassley, a longtime advocate of transparency in healthcare
funding, asked for the information several weeks ago.

The memo said Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate
Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, was also waiting for
responses to questions to Berwick about whether he had links to a group that
advocates for patients’ right to die. The question came from another Republican
member and was based on Berwick’s past statements on end of life care, not any
tangible proof that he was linked to Compassion and Choices, the former Hemlock
Society. 

The memo also said Grassley did not intend to delay
Berwick’s confirmation hearing, and had wanted the hearing to take place before
a similar hearing for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

“I want to make sure it is absolutely clear up front that we
were prepared for a nomination hearing to occur,” the staffer writes in the
memo. “Furthermore, Senator Grassley had in fact requested that the hearing
take place the week of June 21 (before the hearing on the Kagan nomination in
Judiciary). So these items were not a precondition for holding the nomination
hearing. Republicans were in no way holding up this process. We wanted
the hearing.”

President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening announced he would
use his recess appointment powers to name Berwick as administrator of the
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The move preempts a Senate
confirmation vote and would keep Berwick in his post through the end of next
year.

Republicans have blasted the announcement, arguing the
administration is trying to avoid a new fight over the healthcare law that
Berwick will administer.

Grassley wanted answers about the sources of funding for
Berwick’s Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an independent non-profit that
looks at ways to reform healthcare systems to help patients.

The memo also asked whether “Berwick had ever received
funding from, been a member of, consulted with or for, or been associated in
any way with Compassion and Choices, formerly known as The Hemlock Society.”

“The nominee had indicated that this information would be
provided and (the Department of Health and Human Services) indicated it was
being prepared,” the memo says. The staffer writes that the committee had
received all of the nominee’s paperwork and responses to bipartisan questions.

Grassley’s office said the senator still expected responses
to the two questions but was doubtful they would be forthcoming now.

Republicans on the panel were “prepared for a nomination
hearing to occur” the memo adds. 

This story was posted at 10:53 a.m. and updated at 12:16 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Charles Grassley

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