“With all that is changing in the healthcare system and the sheer number of people that rely on your agency for care, you have one of the most important jobs in government today,” Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in opening remarks after Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opened the hearing. “That is why it is so disappointing that you were recess-appointed without even a hearing,” he continued. “It contradicts promises made by candidate Obama about having the most open and transparent administration in history.”
Baucus asked Berwick to state his priorities as director of the CMS, a program that Grassley noted has more than 4,400 employees and an annual budget of more than $700 billion, a budget he said is bigger than the Pentagon's.
Berwick responded that his overall top priority is “to protect the public trust—the trust fund and ensure the longevity and viability of this system, but it's to protect the beneficiary, 100 million people who depend on us to do as well as we possibly can for them,” which he said requires being a more effective agency that works better with other government agencies and the private sector; reduces waste in its own work; improves care for individuals especially around issues such as patient safety; moves swiftly to more integrated care; and gets serious about prevention.
Grassley requested—and other committee members supported—another hearing with Berwick after the Thanksgiving break. Baucus did not commit to a specific date but did say, “We'll have sufficient hearings.”