Last week the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Dr. Don Berwick appeared in front of the Senate Finance Committee to answer Senators’ questions about Medicaid, Medicare and health reform. The hearing gave Senators on the Finance Committee their first opportunity to hear from and ask questions of Dr. Berwick since his recess appointment this summer, and Dr. Berwick had his first chance to lay out his vision for CMS and health reform implementation. A pediatrician and patient advocate, Dr. Berwick outlined his three goals for the health care system as CMS Administrator in his oral testimony:
- Better care for individuals;
- Better health for the American people; and
- Lower cost through improvement, better care delivery.
Dr. Berwick said he believes health care should be responsive, embedded and connected to communities, and focused on the needs of patients and families. He is driven to eliminate medical errors and to highlight and scale quality improvements and exciting innovations in current medical homes and hospitals. At the conclusion on his statement, Committee members were able to ask Dr. Berwick questions. Questions focused largely on health reform. Democrats asked Berwick to describe his priorities, his vision for chronic care management and Accountable Care Organizations, and to go into more detail on various patient benefits that will come from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Dr. Berwick answered Senators’ questions, saying his topline priorities right now are: preserving the Medicare trust fund; improving quality and coordination of care; improving patients’ experience with health care; and moving towards a health care system in which clinicians are able and incentivized to provide the right care through ACOs.
Republicans asked Berwick to address the Medicare cuts in the ACA, the recent actuary’s report on the Medicare trust fund, why Dr. Berwick accepted the recess appointment, and why he did not disclose his full financial records as requested. Berwick answered GOP questions and the tenor of the hearing stayed conversational and non-adversarial. Upon Senator Grassley’s request, Chairman Max Baucus agreed that Dr. Berwick would be asked to appear over the coming months and in 112th session of Congress to give Senators additional opportunities to formally hear from the Administrator. Although this hearing was seen as relatively “gentle,” hearings in the House next year will likely be more contentious with more aggressive questions from the House GOP. Stay tuned to the blog for more on Dr. Berwick’s appearances before Congress as health reform implementation continues.