Obama Rationing Czar Berwick: I’m Happy With ObamaCare

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 7, 2010   |   2:01PM   |   Washington, DC

President Barack Obama’s Medicare chief, rationing advocate Donald Berwick, says he is happy with ObamaCare in terms of how it redistributes wealth similarly to the British health care system.

Berwick is the man Obama appointed to implement ObamaCare and head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

He recently claimed he has backed away from some of his pro-rationing positions, but CNS News caught up with him at speech he delivered Friday at a conference sponsored by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

“Do you think the new health care law–President Obama’s health care law–does enough and a sufficient job to redistribute wealth?” the conservative news service asked Berwick.

Berwick said in response: “I don’t think I’ve seen a law with more help in it, more sense of responsibility than the Affordable Care Act–not in my time.”

“As a nation, when we’ve committed to progress, we have recognized the fact that sometimes people who have a disadvantage need help from others,” said Berwick. “That’s where Medicare and Medicaid came from in the first place, helping people who would have had trouble helping themselves.”

CNS indicates Berwick also said it would be impossible to improve the health care for the 100 million people on Medicare and Medicaid unless the whole system is changed.

“Health and heath care for all Americans–Well, we have 100 million beneficiaries, give or take, those are the people first on my mind,” said Berwick. “I have to make sure that I’ve got their back as do all of my colleagues at CMS. But I know that it would be illusory to claim that we can make care better for 100 million people and not do that with total change to the system–there would be no such plan.”

During his recent questioning, Berwick told senators he has long opposed rationing health care and said he believed people who are near death still have a right to medical treatment.

He said his guiding principle is that patients should get “all the care they want and need, when and where they want and need it.”

Berwick also told lawmakers he doesn’t think a one-size-fits-all scheme is appropriate for the United States because it is such a large and diverse nation.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who opposes abortion and who has been calling on Berwick to testify, said Berwick’s testimony didn’t change his mind about the rationing concerns. He also said the 70 minute time allotted for questioning Berwick was too short, saying “This is pathetic.”

“Asking us to air all our concerns in an hour-long hearing with five minutes each is like asking us to drain the Pacific Ocean with a thimble,” Hatch said.

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.