Obama Rationing Czar Donald Berwick Has Lifetime Health Care, GOP Responds

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 23, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Obama Rationing Czar Donald Berwick Has Lifetime Health Care, GOP Responds

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
July 23
, 2010

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Earlier this month, President Barack Obama used a recess appointment to make rationing advocate Donald Berwick the director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Now, new information shows the rationing czar has lifetime health care insurance from an institute paying him millions of dollars.

Writer Byron York of the Washington Examiner highlights in a column today that Republican members of the Senate, who did not get a chance to hold a hearing or vote on Berwick thanks to the recess appointment, are pointing to Berwick’s ties to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement as a problem.

The nonprofit organization received $12.2 million in contributions and grants in 2008, the Examiner indicates, and Berwick received $2.3 million that year in compensation. His salary from the organization was $637,006 in 2007 and $585,008 in 2006.

But York writes that one item researchers into Berwick’s background noted is a small paragraph inserted into an audit report noting the members of the board of directors approved, in 2003, health insurance coverage for Berwick and his wife "from retirement until death."

"Millions of Americans worry about securing coverage and paying for it. Berwick, who advocates rationing for the masses, will never be one of them," York writes.

Republicans would like to question Berwick on this and other issues, but will not have the chance.

Even though Obama appointed Berwick without a hearing, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus complained about that, the Democrat will not allow a hearing now, even though he can arrange one.

On July 14, Republicans on the Finance Committee wrote a letter to Baucus saying it is needed "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."

The Examiner indicates Baucus said no and told Republicans "the committee needs to focus on the work before us" and that apparently doesn’t include a Berwick hearing.

Meanwhile, Republican senators are finding other ways to respond. Sen. Pat Roberts, a pro-life advocate from Kansas, is sending Berwick a letter with questions he would have asked him during a hearing and other senators plan to do the same thing.

Republicans also discussed Berwick at a members-only meeting yesterday but one of the biggest responses is to block some nominees Obama has submitted.

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

“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.

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.

York says the biggest response could come if Republicans are able to retake the Senate following the November elections.

"Of course, there’s one more possible solution. With Republicans showing surprising strength in Senate races in places like California, Wisconsin and Washington state, some are hoping for a GOP takeover in November. It’s a long shot, but if it happens, Donald Berwick can plan on answering a lot of questions," he concluded.

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

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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