Policy Documents

Could Don Berwick be Done at CMS?

Benjamin Domenech –

Politico reports that Senate Democrats are "giving up" on Don Berwick, the controversial head of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in the wake of the letter signed by 42 Senate Republicans demanding his nomination's withdrawal.

Citing the GOP letter, a person familiar with the situation said Senate Democrats and the White House "can do the arithmetic" and now see that there's no way for Berwick to get the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. At a meeting with health care lobbyists Friday, Democratic Senate Finance Committee staffers indicated that the nomination is dead, that there will be no confirmation hearing, and that they'll soon be discussing "next steps" for CMS, sources said.

In the letter to President Obama last week, 42 Republican Senators requested the withdrawal of Berwick's renomination to head CMS.

"Withdrawing Dr. Berwick's nomination would be a positive first step in rebuilding the trust of the American people. The occupant of this important position, which affects the health care of so many Americans on a daily basis, requires an individual with the appropriate experience and management ability. Our seniors and those who rely on Medicaid deserve no less," the Senators wrote.

While Berwick has been renominated for the position for which he was a recess appointee last year, no hearings have been scheduled yet regarding his nomination.

A correction is in order, however, regarding one line in the Politico piece, which states that "If he is not confirmed by the Senate, Berwick will have to leave by the end of 2011." In reality, Berwick can stay on as acting administrator if he was once again a recess appointee -- he just could not be paid for the position, thanks to a 2009 Omnibus Appropriations law.

UPDATE: Speaking yesterday on the renomination of Don Berwick, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus tells reporters: “Republicans won.”

The Senate will never vote to confirm Dr. Donald Berwick as CMS administrator, according to the Senate Democrat leading his nomination. Berwick is currently serving through a temporary recess appointment.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he has discussed Berwick’s nomination with Republican senators and they plan to oppose Berwick under any circumstances.

Baucus suggests the White House look to alternative nominees for the position as head of CMS.

A PDF version of the letter is here. Read more at Don Berwick Online, Heartland's project tracking Berwick's activities.