Senate Republicans Respond to Berwick Appointment, Seek Hearing, Block Judges

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 15, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Republicans Respond to Berwick Appointment, Seek Hearing, Block Judges

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 15
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — If President Barack Obama thought he would get away with appointing rationing advocate Donald Berwick as the head of Medicare and Medicaid and not see a response from Senate Republicans, he should think again. They have responded aggressively by blocking judges and demanding a hearing.

Berwick is the new director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services who has praised British programs that ration care.

The position is important because it will oversee implementation of the massive government-run health care plan that pro-life advocates say will foster rationing and also contains taxpayer funding of abortions.

Senate Republican lawmakers are upset that Berwick never received a hearing or vote before Obama went around the Senate and used a recess appointment to allow him to head the agency through the end of next year.

In response, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a request Wednesday from Democrats to approve two Obama nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Also, Wednesday evening, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee demanded a public hearing on Berwick and his controversial rationing views.

North Carolina senator Kay Hagan attempted to bring the nominees to the floor for a vote but was rebuffed by McConnell, a pro-life Kentucky lawmaker.

“Democrats didn’t schedule so much as a committee hearing for Donald Berwick,” McConnell said. “The mere possibility of allowing the American people the opportunity to hear what he intends to do with their health care was evidently reason enough for this Administration to sneak him through without public scrutiny."

“So given that the President has been so dismissive of the Senate’s right to provide advice and consent under the Constitution, I am not inclined at this point to consent to the agreement proposed by my friend from North Carolina,” McConnell added.

Sen. Chuck Grassley,a pro-life Iowa Republican, demanded that Democrats hold a hearing on Berwick in the Senate Finance Committee, where he is the top GOP lawmaker.

“We would request that the committee call a hearing as soon as possible so that the President’s recess appointment does not result in circumventing the open public review that should take place for a nomination of such importance,” Grassley wrote in a letter to committee chairman Max Baucus.

“The need for Dr. Berwick to be considered in a transparent and deliberative manner is all the more important because the agency will be responsible for numerous and significant changes to federal health programs including the largest Medicaid coverage expansion since the program’s creation,” Grassley said.

Berwick is an outspoken admirer of the British National Health Service and its rationing arm, the National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness (NICE).

Recess appointees can serve in their position until the end of the congressional term following the year of their appointment. That means Berwick will hold the influential position until late 2011 unless the Senate officially approves his nomination before then.

Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote about the problems with Berwick in an opinion column at the Daily Caller in May.

Recalling that opponents of the government-run health care bill were blasted for bringing up "death panels," Tanner writes: "But if President Obama wanted to keep a lid on that particular controversy, he just selected about the worst possible nominee."

In his comments lauding the British health care system, Tanner says "Berwick was referring to a British health care system where 750,000 patients are awaiting admission to NHS hospitals."

"The government’s official target for diagnostic testing was a wait of no more than 18 weeks by 2008. The reality doesn’t come close. The latest estimates suggest that for most specialties, only 30 to 50 percent of patients are treated within 18 weeks. For trauma and orthopedics patients, the figure is only 20 percent," he writes.

"Overall, more than half of British patients wait more than 18 weeks for care. Every year, 50,000 surgeries are canceled because patients become too sick on the waiting list to proceed,’ he continues.

"The one thing the NHS is good at is saving money. After all, it is far cheaper to let the sick die than to provide care," Tanner adds.

NICE is at the forefront of the rationing in the British health care system.

"It acts as a comparative-effectiveness tool for NHS, comparing various treatments and determining whether the benefits the patient receives, such as prolonged life, are cost-efficient for the government," Tanner explains. "NICE, however, is not simply a government agency that helps bureaucrats decide if one treatment is better than another. With the creation of NICE, the U.K. government has effectively put a dollar amount to how much a citizen’s life is worth."

Tanner points out that Berwick has already admitted health care rationing is coming.

“It’s not a question of whether we will ration care,” the Obama nominee said in a magazine interview for Biotechnology Healthcare, “It is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”

Liberal writer Nat Hentoff has also criticized Berwick’s nomination.


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