Donald Berwick

Donald Berwick, M.D., Former President and CEO, Institute for Healthcare Improvement; Former Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  The second annual Lundberg Institute Lecture welcomes Dr. Berwick, who studies the management of health care systems with emphasis on using scientific methods and evidence-based medicine and comparative effectiveness research to improve the tradeoff among quality, safety and costs.

Event Description: In the ongoing difficult transition to the Obama health plan, Dr. Berwick’s analysis of these issues has been resisted, and even distorted, by some political opponents in the current public debate. Dr. Berwick concludes that “Any health-care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional.” Also, hear Dr. Berwick’s ideas on how true delivery system reform – changing care to better meet the needs of patients, families and communities – provides a sensible and effective alternative to the much-feared threat of rationing of care. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

MLF: Humanities
Location: SF Club Office
Time: 5:30 p.m. networking reception, 6 p.m. program
Cost: $20 standard, $8 members, $7 students (with valid ID)
Program Organizer: George Hammond
Also know: In association with The Lundberg Institute

Continue reading “THCB Calendar Dec. 18 — Donald Berwick: Is a Bright Future for Health Care Possible?”

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2012 has been a challenging year for me.

On the personal side, my wife had cancer. Together we moved two households, relocated her studio, and closed her gallery. This week my mother broke her hip in Los Angeles and I’m writing from her hospital room as we finalize her discharge and home care plan before I fly back to Boston.

On the business side, the IT community around me has worked hard on Meaningful Use Stage 2, the Massachusetts State Health Information Exchange, improvements in data security, groundbreaking new applications, and complex projects like ICD10 with enormous scope.

We did all this with boundless energy and optimism, knowing that every day we’re creating a foundation that will improve the future for our country, communities, and families.

My personal life has never been better – Kathy’s cancer is in remission, our farm is thriving, and our daughter is maturing into a fine young woman at Tufts University.

My business life has never been better – Meaningful Use Stage 2 provides new rigorous standards for content/vocabulary/transport at a time when EHR use has doubled since 2008, the State HIE goes live in one week, and BIDMC was voted the number #1 IT organization the country.

It’s clear that many have discounted the amazing accomplishments that we’ve all made, overcoming technology and political barriers with questions such as “how can we?” and “why not?” rather than “why is it taking so long?” They would rather pursue their own goals – be they election year politics, academic recognition, or readership traffic on a website.

As many have seen, this letter from the Ways and Means Committee makes comments about standards that clearly have no other purpose than election year politics. These House members are very smart people and I have great respect for their staff. I’m happy to walk them through the Standards and Certification Regulations (MU stage 1 and stage 2) so they understand that the majority of their letter is simply not true – it ignores the work of hundreds of people over thousands of hours to close the standards gaps via open, transparent, and bipartisan harmonization in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Continue reading “A Time for Boundless Energy and Optimism”

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President Obama is fighting to save his signature health law on two fronts: in the Supreme Court and on the campaign trail, where Republican candidates are promising to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Yet even if the president prevails, he faces another daunting challenge: implementing the law in a seamless, timely manner. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is charged with making the health law work, drafting regulations, setting up new programs and providing oversight. But for years Congress has undermined the agency’s leadership and potential effectiveness, raising questions about its capabilities and resources even as the health law ramps up its responsibilities.

For starters: consider the revolving door leadership at CMS.

Since its creation in 1977 as the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency has had 29 administrators in 35 years – an average tenure of just 14 months. The longest-serving administrator held the job for four years and five months. The shortest: two months.

The most recent CMS administrator, Dr. Donald Berwick, resigned in December after 16 months. His replacement, Marilyn Tavenner, currently holds the title of acting administrator. That’s hardly uncommon.

Acting administrators have run the agency 20 percent of the time. And the trend appears to be increasing: the Senate hasn’t confirmed a full-time CMS administrator since 2006, when Mark McClellan resigned midway through the second Bush administration.

“Imagine if somebody went two years without a Secretary of Defense,” Thomas A. Scully, who was CMS administrator under President George W. Bush, told the journal Health Affairs in April 2010.

Continue reading “The Hardest Job To Fill (And Keep) In Washington: CMS Chief”

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Last week, Don Berwick completed his 17 month tenure as administrator of Medicare and Medicaid.   The nation should be grateful that such a visionary was at the helm.  The nation should frustrated that he was never confirmed.

In his parting interview with the press,  he noted that 20 percent to 30 percent of health spending is “waste” that yields no benefit to patients.

Berwick listed five reasons for the enormous waste in health spending:
*Patients are overtreated
*There is not enough coordination of care
*US health care is burdened with an excessively complex administrative system
*The enormous burden of rules
*Fraud

Certainly regulatory reform is needed, but electronic health records can go far to addressing each of these issues.

Continue reading “The Promise of Electronic Healthcare Records”

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Amy Goldstein has an important article in today’s Washington Post detailing the place Don Berwick, the Medicare and Medicaid administrator finds himself in.

It is all but certain he will have to leave his post at year’s end, when his recess appointment expires, because the Senate will not confirm him for a lack of Republican support.

Berwick is one of the most respected health care experts in the country—his career has been dedicated to improving quality first and with that the cost of care. With the new law giving his agency more opportunities to experiment with new approaches and the ability to more quickly implement the things that work, he was the ideal choice.

But with the Democrats ramming the law through without a political consensus to support it, Berwick also became the political whipping boy for opponents to pile on. That he has been willing to point to the things that work in places like Britain only gave the political opportunists plenty of red meat to throw into an already red hot ideological debate.

Continue reading “The Awful Dichotomy Between Health Care Politics and Policy”

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Just thought that I’d share this photo taken by @drjmob at the Partnership for Patients meeting today. (P4P is a safety initiative kicked off by HHS a few weeks back). Here’s patient data advocate (and BFF of Health 2.0) Regina Holiday getting to grips with CMS head Don Berwick. In fact they had remarkably similar experiences with spouses who endured terrible hospitalizations made worse by incomplete data and poor provider team communication. Here’s Regina’s story from her blog and here’s Don’s (starts on Page 20 of Escape Fire but read the whole thing if you haven’t before). It’s an unlikely couple–the pre-school teacher without a college degree and the Harvard policy wonk. But they share a human experience both are working hard to eradicate.

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We’ve all had the experience of hearing someone we know well say or write something totally out of character, and wondering, “what was that about?”

Don Berwick said such a thing last week, all-but-contradicting President Obama’s support for a strengthened, independent Medicare payment board. After a little head scratching, I began to wonder whether this might have been a harbinger of some good news regarding his tenure as Medicare czar.

This is one complicated political dance, so let me explain.

Berwick, as you know, received a recess appointment to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last July, after his nomination had become hopelessly entangled in a web of partisan politics. I applauded President Obama for the appointment, and predicted that Don would do a great job in this crucial role, perhaps even wooing some of the Republican legislators who hijacked his nomination process to re-litigate the fracas over healthcare reform.

Then, in early March, Senate Republicans made it clear that they would not support Berwick’s continued tenure when his recess appointment expires later this year. The reasons include lingering concerns about Berwick’s politics (particularly his embrace of the British system of universal healthcare coverage), continued anger over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and some peevishness over the recess appointment itself. In this space last month, I promoted a letter-writing campaign to try to save the Berwick appointment, though insiders told me it was “hopeless.” Continue reading “Can Berwick Be Saved? Here’s One Possible Scenario”

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When President Obama named Dr. Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) last March, I wrote this:

“Most who know Berwick describe him a ‘visionary’ and a ‘healer,’ a man able to survey the fragments of a broken health care system and imagine how they could be made whole.  He’s a revolutionary, but he doesn’t rattle cages. He’s not arrogant, and he’s not advocating a government takeover of U.S. health care.”

To understand what I meant, view these clips from the film, Money-Driven Medicine, where Berwick speaks about the need for healthcare reform. Soft-spoken and charismatic, Berwick is as passionate as he is original. His style is colloquial, intimate, and ultimately absolutely riveting. He draws you into his vision, moving your mind from where it was to where it could be.

And now, it appears that we are going to lose him. Thursday, 42 Senators delivered a letter to President Obama demanding that he withdraw his support for Berwick to head CMS. The Boston pediatrician and co-founder of the Institute for Health Care Improvement (IHI) had received a temporary appointment in July while Congress was on vacation. President Obama re-nominated him in January. But Berwick still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, or he will have to leave his post at the end of this year.

With 42 out of 100 Senators firmly opposed to him, it appears that Berwick’s supporters won’t be able to muster the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate floor. Reportedly, Senate liberals already have given up. According to Politico.com’s Brett Coughlin: “At a meeting with Senate staffers Friday, health care lobbyists and advocates were told that there will be no confirmation hearing and that they’ll soon be discussing ‘next steps’ for CMS.”    If this is true, Berwick is now a lame-duck CMS director without power—as of today. Continue reading “The Fall of Berwick?”

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Early on, many social movements depend on a charismatic leader to focus attention, build a burning platform, and inspire people to action. You know when the movement has made it when it no longer needs such a leader for fuel.

The safety and quality movements have picked up tremendous steam over the past decade, but they haven’t yet hit that self-sustaining tipping point. Last week, there were two things that reminded me of this: the announcement of a new leader of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), and a doleful JAMA essay by Peter Pronovost.

During the circus that was Don Berwick’s recess appointment to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), all eyes were trained Inside the Beltway. But 440 miles north, in Cambridge, MA, arguably the most important organization in the quality and safety galaxy needed to get on with its business. On July 8th, IHI announced its choice of Maureen Bisognano to become its new CEO. Maureen is a nurse and former hospital exec who has spent the last 15 years at IHI as Don’s consigliere. She is a terrific person, with boundless energy and great organizational skills – insiders will tell you that she was the reason that IHI’s trains ran on time for the past decade, as Don is the quintessential big picture guy. Continue reading “The Non-Scalability of Charisma”

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Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose you were a U.S. Senator and the President’s nominee to head CMS appeared at his confirmation hearing:

  • Wearing a Che Guevera t-shirt, sporting the image of a psychopath who apparently enjoyed killing people, or
  • Fondly clutching a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao, written by a man who presided over the genocidal murder of more people than any other person in the history of the world.

When I was at Columbia University, my fellow students did these sorts of things. I soon learned they were not evil. They simply could not think clearly about moral issues involving collectivism. I view Don Berwick in much the same way.

President Obama took advantage of a short Congressional recess to appoint him to run Medicare and Medicaid without even a hearing. Although the President blamed Republicans, even some Democrats were unhappy with his snubbing of normal Senate prerogatives — something Obama criticized George Bush for doing with the appointment of John Bolton as UN Ambassador.

Continue reading “Op Ed: Dr. No to Run CMS”

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FROM THE VAULT

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