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Dr. Lucian Leape
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Healthcare heavyweights urge Obama to back Berwick


By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: March 20, 2011 - 12:01 am ET
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A virtual Who's Who of the patient-safety and healthcare-quality movements has signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to request that Senate hearings be held on his nomination of Dr. Donald Berwick as administrator of the CMS, who currently is serving a temporary recess appointment that expires in December.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had said that unified Republican opposition to the nomination meant there was “no point” in holding hearings.

But, regardless of how a vote would turn out, Dr. Lucian Leape, adjunct professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, thinks hearings should be held anyway and is seeking to push Obama and Baucus in that direction.

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“A lot of people out there are pretty upset about this,” Leape said. “So much of what goes on in Washington is choreographed, and I've never paid much attention to it, frankly. But I think it's outrageous that he's not having hearings—after which, Republicans can vote however they want.”

The letter was sent March 16 to the president, Baucus, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and to William Daley, Obama's chief of staff.

“Your outstanding nominee to lead CMS, Dr. Donald Berwick, is trapped in the partisan battle over health reform,” the letter stated. “Misleading statements and untruths about his remarkable record have replaced a legitimate exploration of differences that can emerge during an open public hearing.”

The letter adds that “No one is as well prepared as Dr. Berwick to help you and the nation move forward to make healthcare safer, more effective, more responsive, and more efficient for us all.”

Individuals who signed the letter include Leape; Dr. Denis Cortese, former president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic; Dr. Gary Kaplan, chairman and CEO of the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle; Diane Pinakiewicz, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation; and Dr. Robert Wachter, the University of California San Francisco Medical Center's division of hospital medicine chief. Organizations that signed on include Virginia Mason, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Osteopathic Association.

“It was really a matter of getting people whose names we thought would be listened to,” Leape said.

Meanwhile, Leape said he expects Berwick to stay at the CMS into December.

“My understanding is that he has no intention of leaving and they have no intention of asking him to leave,” Leape said. “He's going full speed ahead, and has really energized the agency.”


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