PLEDGE NOW
Former Medicare Chief Donald Berwick Speaks

Dr. Donald Berwick hit the buzzsaw of American politics as short-time chief of Medicare. Now, he’s out, and talking.

Medicare Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, April 12, 2011, in Washington. (AP)

Medicare Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, April 12, 2011, in Washington. (AP)

Dr. Donald Berwick has spent his life working to make American health care cheaper and better. Then he went to Washington, and ran into the buzz saw of American health care politics.

Barack Obama appointed Berwick chief of all Medicare and Medicare, health care providers for one out of every three Americans. The giant item in the federal budget. But it was a recess appointment. It needed the Senate’s stamp of approval. Senate Republicans would not give it.

Now, after seventeen months, he’s out.

This hour, On Point: Donald Berwick on American health, health care, and buzz saw politics.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Dr. Donald Berwick, administrator, until last Thursday, of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which provides healthcare for 100 million Americans. Former President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a not-for-profit organization focused on healthcare improvement

Highlights

Despite stepping down as chief of America’s Medicare and Medicaid programs, Dr. Donald Berwick said it is a “thrilling time in health care.” And he said now is the time for change:

“On the one hand I do think we can buckle down as a country and get health care to perform the way we all want it to with dignity, reliability and safety,” Berwick said. “The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand that possibility. They don’t understand that health care can get a lot better.”

Berwick says that he was interested in the ways that corporations remain competitive and noted that “constant innovation is the root of making things better and more affordable and that is true of health care.”

He explained that his departure from Washington was due to the absence of “authentic dialogue’ about what is needed and what is possible. “Everything has been reduced to sound bites and rhetoric,” Berwick said. “It was really hard to engage as I would have wanted to engage with some people who have some skepticism about the law about what the possibilities are.”

On the question of redistribution of wealth and health care benefits, Berwick explained that “insurance is redistribution.”

“It is simply a fact that illness and poverty go together. Wealth and health are inversely related,” Berwick said. “If we want to become a country in which if you get ill you get care then we saying that those of us who have more because we are healthier are going to help those of us who have less because we are not going to need the help of others. That is really the moral question for the country: do we help each other with our health.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Mr. Obama first nominated Dr. Berwick in April 2010, but he never received a Senate confirmation hearing. More than 40 Senate Republicans urged the White House to withdraw the nomination last spring, and many vowed to block confirmation.”

Healthaffairs.org “As he ticked off to his aides the various stakeholder groups he wanted to check with that day, he was startled when one informed him that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had just been reported killed. He and his press officer safely predicted that this stunning news undoubtedly would trump the ACO announcement.”

Washington Post “It’s a rare moment in an increasingly polarized Washington: One of the highest ranking Republicans endorsing the bureaucrat that the Obama administration hopes will oversee implementation of its health care law. But when we spoke this morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was resolute in his support for Marilyn Tavenner, the woman the White House hopes will oversee the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
May 31, 2016
This 2006 colorized scanning electron micrograph image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the O157:H7 strain of the E. coli bacteria. On Wednesday, May 26, 2016, U.S. military officials reported the first U.S. human case of bacteria resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort drug. The 49-year-old woman has recovered from an infection of E. coli resistant to colistin. But officials fear that if the resistance spreads to other bacteria, the country may soon see germs impervious to all antibiotics. (Janice Carr/CDC via AP)

A new superbug resistant to every antibiotic has shown up in the U.S. We look at the threat, and our dwindling antibiotic options.

May 31, 2016
In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca or killer whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. ( (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The end of orcas at SeaWorld, McDonald’s using cage-free eggs — should animal lovers be optimistic about a new “humane economy”?

RECENT
SHOWS
May 30, 2016
Rock icon Donald Fagen looks back on a lengthy and ongoing career in his new memoir 'Eminent Hipsters.' He co-founded the classic rock group Steely Dan with Walter Becker in 1972. (Penguin Books USA)

Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen talks “eminent hipsters” and the cultural outliers that shaped his sound. He joins us.

 
May 30, 2016
Author and Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy. (Photo by Bob O'Connor / Courtesy The Author)

Strike a power pose. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy on the power of presence when you’re ready to act and win.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
In The Garden, Mother Nature Makes The Rules
Friday, May 27, 2016

Executive producer Karen Shiffman explains why she turns to her garden for food, friends and natrual comfort.

More »
Comment
 
WWII Vet Larry Kirby Reflects On American Values
Thursday, May 26, 2016

Looking ahead to Memorial Day, a World War II veteran looks back at the experiences that mattered to him, both in and out of war.

More »
Comment
 
Gloria Steinem Explains Her ‘Bernie Boys’ Comment
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem explains why her apparent diss of female supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders was anything but.

More »
Comment