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Donald Berwick: The Good Doctor at CMS

Jim Molpus, for HealthLeaders Media, December 2, 2010

Berwick's background as a family physician and history of pushing patient-centered leadership will serve him well. "He has a history of caring for the well-being of patients, families, and caregivers, coupled with the vision to see a better way of doing things and the courage to make that happen," says Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Lutheran Health Systems in La Crosse, WI. Chris Van Gorder, CEO of San Diego-based Scripps Health says Berwick is not only familiar with the industry and its key players, but is proven at "healthcare change concepts" that will be necessary at CMS.

But even with his strengths, the political landmines are being set. Unraveling or even repealing the Act was a recurring theme in the midterm elections. "Change is harder in an atmosphere of polarized distrust," Thompson says. "Too many in politics, medicine, and insurance have power and money as the lead priorities, not the well being of the citizens."

And even with the debate over the cost of healthcare being in the national focus for two years, Berwick still may have the convince the public, Wolterman says. "Dr. Berwick's biggest hurdle is to educate the citizens of this country that our current healthcare system is unsustainable and inefficient," Wolterman says. "We all need to be open to a new way of delivering high quality healthcare in value-driven manner that improves the health of the individuals in our community and that the health reform law, as it is currently written, will not get us to this desired outcome." It does not help that Berwick does not have the political mandate behind him. "He lacks experience as a government administrator and he does not have the full support, or for that matter, the approval of Congress for his position," Van Gorder says. "That means he will not have bipartisan support for changes he suggests to Congress."

Hopes are still high that with his background and unique relationships with the industry that Berwick will, as Thompson hopes, "change CMS from a payer of bills to an organization that helps guide us to better value in healthcare."

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