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The New Health Dialogue

A Blog from New America's Health Policy Program

HEALTH REFORM: Republicans (Alas, Ones Without Votes) Praising Berwick

Published:  April 12, 2010

Former Medicare-Medicaid directors Tom Scully and Mark McClellan are saying kind things about Dr. Don Berwick, the Harvard pediatrician and president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement who is reportedly the White House pick to lead Medicare and Medicaid as we enter the era of health reform.

Why is this important? Because both Scully and McClellan headed CMS under Republican administrations. And while political affiliation of Medicare directors may not be relevant in a perfect world, this is not a perfect world. This is Washington -- and Berwick, we have been told, is likely to face a Senate confirmation fight. He needs at least one Republican to back him, and while we suspect that will happen in time, we would prefer sooner rather than later. Wonder what the chances of him getting some love from his home-state senator. No, it's not John Kerry we're wondering about. It's the other one -- Scott Brown.

Scully and McClellan's praise won't make the politics evaporate, but they may help modulate it a bit. The American Medical News quoted Scully as predicting that Berwick will get confirmed -- although it won't be easy.

"He's about as noncontroversial and well-liked as you can get. You're not going to do any better," said Scully, who served as administrator from 2001 to 2004 and is now senior counsel at the law firm Alston & Bird.

McClellan, who is now director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Berwick is the right pick.

"Don has a unique background in both improving care on the ground and thinking about how our nation's health care policies need to be reformed to help make that happen,"  McClellan said.

The two have worked together on some projects, including a one-day conference last summer which drew attention to some of the health care systems and communities around the country that are getting it right -- higher quality, at lower costs. Berwick's task: to make that the national norm, not a newsworthy (blog-worthy) exception to the national rule.


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