Not a lot of people outside of the health care world know who Don Berwick is, but most of us inside that sphere are quite familiar with him and his work. Berwick is a health care quality guru, and a pragmatist. He’s also a physician. In fact, he’s the kind of physician I would want for myself or my loved ones, because he knows his stuff, but values patient-centered care–believes in delivering the highest quality of care, but doesn’t promote services with significant costs or serious risks if the potential benefits are minimal. This is the direction in which our health care system needs to move, so it was great to learn that President Obama had nominated Berwick to serve as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Of course, these types of appointments have to be confirmed by the Senate–and the GOP Senators just couldn’t stand the idea of Obama scoring another political victory–so they were ready for a fight over the confirmation hearings. Fortunately, that fight never came. Instead, Obama will use a recess appointment to install Berwick at CMS today. This is important, because so much is happening now with health reform–much of which involves changes in Medicare and Medicaid–that it was becoming increasingly urgent for CMS to have an official leader. Unfortunately, recess appointments are somewhat temporary–Berwick will have to be confirmed at some point in 2011–but the election will be past by then, and hopefully the allure of scoring political points will be diminished and one of the foremost authorities on health care and health care quality can be given the bipartisan respect his track record deserves.