Rationing Advocate Donald Berwick to Testify in Senate on ObamaCare

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2010   |   12:22PM   |   Washington, DC

Donald Berwick, the rationing advocate President Barack Obama appointed to implement ObamaCare and head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will finally testify before Congress.

Berwick is slated to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday morning — months after lawmakers began a concerted effort to get him to answer tough questions about the new government-run health care scheme.

Obama used a recess appoint to put Berwick in place after Senate Republicans objected to his nomination and successfully prevented Democrats from obtaining the 60 votes they needed to shut off debate and cast a vote on his nomination.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said at the time the hearing was announced last week, “There are a lot of questions that he’ll need to answer next week.”

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, calls Berwick “the most important man that you’ve never heard of” and he called on lawmakers to ask about “his radical plans for health care.”

“Berwick, who the President entrusted with $962 billion dollars, heads up the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid–a job he was never approved by Congress to do,” he said. “Instead, the White House, sensing that his pro-euthanasia socialist views would pose problems even for his own party, made Berwick a recess appointment.”

Perkins wants members of the Senate panel to ask about Berwick’s “fondness for rationing and death panels.”

The appearance is Berwick’s first before Congress since Obama appointed him administrator in July. Berwick was asked to testify by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and he is not yet slated to appear in the House, where Democrats will cede control of the chamber in January to Republicans.

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, which is now highly unlikely.

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

During a 2008 speech to British physicians, Berwick said “I am romantic about the National Health Service. I love it,” and calling it “generous, hopeful, confident, joyous, and just.”

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 views.