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White House Using Recess to Appoint Berwick as CMS Head

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, July 7, 2010

With Congress away from Washington, DC, this week for the July 4th break, the White House indicated Tuesday that it will use a recess appointment to put nominee Donald Berwick, MD, in as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The action is expected to bypass the political storm clouds that have been gathering in anticipation of the Senate confirmation hearings for Berwick, a pediatrician, Harvard University professor, and head of the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, MA.

Berwick has received broad support nationwide from a variety of consumer, health, and trade groups such as AARP and the American Medical Association. However, numerous GOP members had been indicating in recent weeks that they would stall Berwick’s nomination and address problems they saw with new healthcare reform law passed in March.

With the agency “facing new responsibilities to protect seniors’ care” under the new healthcare reform law, it was felt “there’s no time to waste with Washington game playing,” says Dan Pfeiffer, the White House’s communications director in a White House blog Tuesday night.

Berwick’s “firsthand knowledge of the healthcare system” makes him “the right administrator to tackle the law’s requirements,” particularly as CMS works to “improve nursing home care, reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions, and expand coverage to millions of Americans who need it most,” Pfeiffer says.

The new healthcare reform act also attaches a Jan. 1, 2011, deadline to many of these priorities, “making steady, experienced leadership all the more critical,” Pfeiffer says. CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006.

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