Gingrich’s Lauded Doctor Resigns
Don Berwick, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) chief, resigned effective Friday, 11/25/2011, as a result of a GOP Senate filibuster that prevents his confirmation. Berwick assumed his position as a result of a recess appointment, but has now decided not to stay on because of the GOP filibuster even though his work in lowering medical costs while improving outcomes has been praised for over a decade by leading Republicans.
For all the partisan hype regarding Berwick’s resignation, remember this man has been praised by leading Republicans, including in 2000 by Gingrich, as one of the country’s foremost experts on controlling rising medical costs while increasing effectiveness.
Now, if you enjoy having medical costs bankrupt you and the nation or have no desire in bending the medical cost curve, then by all means hail his leaving. But for those of us who do want to see medical care costs decrease as a percentage of GDP (currently at 17% and estimated to be 20% by 2020 if costs are not controlled), then his leaving is a step backwards in bringing down excessive medical inflation that’s currently 2 to 3 times more than ordinary inflation.
Meanwhile, all OECD countries have medical care costs of no more than 11% of GDP with equal or better outcomes. Imagine how much billions the federal government could save or put into infrastructure improvements or education if just 6% of GDP was not going to medical care. Think about how much higher salaries could be if companies did not have to invest so much of their employee budget in medical care costs and how much lower product costs would be without the high cost of medical care included in their product price…and what that would mean in terms of global competitiveness.
Current Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich who in 2000 and then again in his 2006 book “Saving Lives & Saving Money” praised Berwick for his passionate belief that quality-care focused systems improve health outcomes and reduce health care spending — and many other conservatives (including former Bush health officials) shared and espoused this vision. From Gingrich’s 2000 editorial:
The Veterans Administration’s Palo Alto Health Care System is creating a computerized patient medical record system. The new Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago was designed from its conception to be a safer, more accurate and more electronic facility. Don Berwick at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has worked for years to spread the word that the same systematic approach to quality control that has worked so well in manufacturing could create a dramatically safer, less expensive and more effective system of health and health care.
It’s worth keeping in mind what Matt Miller recently wrote in a Washington Post editorial.
The Journal Health Affairs asked former Swiss health minister Thomas Zeltner why his country’s individual mandate was acceptable to a nation known for ardently defending personal freedom. “That’s easy,” Zeltner replied. “We will not let people suffer and die when they need health care. The Swiss believe that in return, individuals owe it to society to provide ahead of time for their health care when they fall seriously ill. At that point, they may not have enough money to pay for it. So we consider the health insurance mandate to be a form of socially responsible civic conduct. In Switzerland, ‘individual freedom’ does not mean that you should be free to live irresponsibly and freeload from others.”
The opposition against Berwick is not about him per se, but rather his approval of a health care system that reduces costs and most importantly the angry, strident opposition of the GOP towards the Democratically enacted ACA and President Obama for no other reason than than he’s a Democrat. If he were a Republican, Berwick would have been confirmed long ago and ACA would have been hailed as a free market triumph that would reduce costs while requiring individual responsibility.
But GOP unreasoned hatred of of all things Democratic will prevent this nation from ceasing to be bankrupted by medical costs. Oh, and the current GOP answer to higher than inflation medical care costs: pick up more of the costs yourselves so you won’t or can’t use so many medical services.
For a middle and working class that has seen their incomes flat line or decrease, those GOP ideas will mean worse outcomes and more economic hardship. This policy argument should not be about political partisanship but about family and business economics.
Good going, GOP.