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National Right to Life Reacts to Appointment of Donald Berwick to Head HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

by Staff
July 9, 2010
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WASHINGTON, ( -- Today, President Obama used the power of the recess appointment to install Donald Berwick as the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in an attempt to avoid examination, through the pending confirmation process, of Berwick's well-documented support for rationing health care.

"The Obama recess appointment of rationing advocate Donald Berwick to head the key government agency that will apply the new health care law is disastrous news for the vulnerable, especially the elderly and the sickest of American patients," said Burke Balch, J.D., director of National Right to Life's Powell Center for Medical Ethics.

Confirmation of Berwick would have faced strong opposition from pro-life Republican senators appalled by his open advocacy of government-imposed rationing of medical treatment. In a June 2009 interview with the journal Biotechnology Healthcare, Berwick said, "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care -- the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open."

In an article in the May/June 2008 issue of Health Affairs, he called for "rational collective action overriding some individual self-interest" so as to "reduce per capita costs." Lamenting that "[t]oday's individual health care processes are designed to respond to the acute needs of individual patients," Berwick wrote that instead government should "approach new technologies and capital investments with skepticism and require that a strong burden of proof of value lie with the proponent."

Berwick's advocacy of the decimation of American health care is long-standing. In a 1994 Journal of the American Medical Association article, he wrote, "Most metropolitan areas in the United States should reduce the number of centers engaging in cardiac surgery, high-risk obstetrics, neonatal intensive care, organ transplantation, tertiary cancer care, high-level trauma care, and high-technology imaging."

"Donald Berwick is a one-man death panel," said David N. O'Steen, Ph.D., National Right to Life executive director. "While Americans may not remember the agency he heads, he will quickly become known as Obama's rationing czar."

Berwick is also an enthusiastic supporter of Britain's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), the agency charged with determining which medical advances will -- and which will not -- be made available to the British public. Berwick claims NICE has "developed very good and very disciplined . . . models for the evaluation of medical treatment from which we ought to learn." England's five-year cancer survival rate for men is only 45%, compared with 66% in the U.S. That for women is 53%, compared to 63% in the U.S. (See: Arduiono Verdecchia and others, "Recent Cancer Survival: a 2000-02 period analysis of EUROCARE-4 data," Lancet Oncology, 2007, no. 8, pages 784-796.)

The difference can in large measure be attributed to the refusal of NICE to authorized British use of pioneering cancer drugs routinely available in the United States. That is to say -- currently routinely available in the United States -- an availability Berwick will soon be using the power of government to curtail.

"President Obama's appointment of this open advocate of rationing to implement his health care law underlines the need for repeal before untold numbers of vulnerable Americans suffer death from denial of life-saving treatment," O'Steen added. "The Obama health care rationing law must be repealed and voters need to remember its deadly provisions in November."

The National Right to Life Committee is the nation's largest pro-life group with affiliates in all 50 states and over 3,000 local chapters nationwide. National Right to Life works through legislation and education to protect those threatened by abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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