Obama Appoints “One-Man Death Panel” to Head Medicare

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

In an effort to bypass Congressional opposition, President Barack Obama is using a recess appointment prerogative to appoint a controversial physician who is a self-professed supporter of health care rationing to serve as Chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Associated Press is reporting that the president will appoint Dr. Donald Berwick to the post during the summer recess which will allow him to serve through next year without being subject to public scrutiny or Senate confirmation.

Berwick, 63, a pediatrician, Harvard University professor and leader of a health care nonprofit organization, has been criticized for comments he made during an interview last year in which he said:  “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care – the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open. And right now, we are doing it blindly.”

Although Berwick was nominated in April, no confirmation hearing had been scheduled and conservative lawmakers let it be known they would oppose the nomination. In an effort to avoid a confrontation that would reopen the health care debate a few months short of the 2010 elections, it was decided that a quick recess appointment was the only way to get the controversial appointee into office. 

Medicare has been without an administrator since 2006, and the White House says the need to fill the post is critical because of its role in implementing the new health care law.

“Many Republicans in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they were going to stall the nomination as long as they could, solely to score political points,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a post on the White House blog. “But with the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors’ care under the Affordable Care Act, there’s no time to waste with Washington game-playing.”
Lawmakers were incensed by the appointment. Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said, “The fact that this administration won’t allow the man charged with implementing the president’s plan to cut $500 billion out of Medicare to testify about his plans for the care of our nation’s seniors is truly outrageous.”

National pro-life leaders were also outraged by the appointment. 

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the Family Research Council said Berwick is just another example of the president’s extreme liberal agenda.

“Donald Berwick has stated himself that England’s socialized medical services are better than those in the United States, and has said that ‘any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is, by definition, redistributional,'” McClusky quoted.

“Americans should keep their eyes open to guard their health from Donald Berwick’s extreme view of medicine,” he added. “He will only bring America’s high standards for health care services down, and hurt Americans through rationing and lower standards of medical treatment.”

David N. O’Steen, Ph.D., National Right to Life Committee (NLRC) executive director calls Berwick “a one-man death panel” who will quickly become known as Obama’s “rationing czar.”

O’Steen points out that Berwick is an enthusiastic supporter of Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), the agency charged with determining which medical advances will – and which will not – be made available to the British public. Berwick claims NICE has “developed very good and very disciplined . . . models for the evaluation of medical treatment from which we ought to learn.”

However, what he doesn’t say is that England’s five-year cancer survival rate for men is only 45 percent, compared to 66 percent in the U.S. For women, the survival rate in the UK is 53 percent compared to 63 percent in the U.S.

The difference can in large measure be attributed to the refusal of NICE to authorized British use of pioneering cancer drugs routinely available in the United States, the NRLC writes. That is to say – currently routinely available in the United States – an availability Berwick may soon be using the power of government to curtail.

“President Obama’s appointment of this open advocate of rationing to implement his health care law underlines the need for repeal before untold numbers of vulnerable Americans suffer death from denial of life-saving treatment,” O’Steen added. “The Obama health care rationing law must be repealed and voters need to remember its deadly provisions in November.”

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