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Donald Berwick, President Obama's choice to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was supposed to be headed into the lion's den Wednesday when he appeared for the first time at Senate hearing in his current position.
After Obama named Berwick earlier this year, Senate Republicans were fiercely hostile to the well-respected health care analyst. He had spoken approvingly of the British National Health Service, the epitome of socialized medicine and that was enough.
The GOP blowback was so fierce, Obama gave Berwick a recess appointment to avoid a knock down, drag out battle.
But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports on All Things Considered Wednesday, Berwick received surprisingly tame treatment at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee.
JULIE: To listen to Repubicans complaining about his nomination earlier this year, you'd have thought Donald Berwick was a fire-breathing socialist who wanted to ration health care to every American man, woman, and child.
But the Berwick who appeared before the Finance Committee today was more familiar to those who have followed his career as an expert in improving health quality and preventing medical errors. Berwick told the senators he was actually recognized by a Senate security guard on his way to the hearing.
BERWICK SOUNDBITE: And I was startled, I said why do you want to know? He said "My name is John McCormick and my daughter was Taylor McCormick. And she died when she was 17 months old because of a medical error. I am devoting myself to making sure that doesn't happen to other children. And I want to do anything I can possibly do to do help you in your new job.
JULIE: Berwick's primary goal at the hearing, however, was to defend the new health law. His agency oversees major aspects of the new measure, including major changes to both the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
BERWICK: The Affordable Care Act has laid an unprecedented foundation for better patient care.
JULIE: While Republicans didn't deliver on many of the threatened personal attacks on Berwick, they did use the relatively brief hearing to go after some of the more unpopular elements of the law, particularly its $500 billion worth of reduced Medicare spending over the next decade.
Ranking Republican Charles Grassley noted that independent analysts within Medicare have predicted the cuts to health care providers could ultimately hurt patients.
GRASSLEY: Dr. Berwick would you agree with those comments about thehc bill potentially jeopardizing health care for beneficiaries?
JULIE: Berwick, however, said he is convinced Medicare patients won't suffer and will in fact benefit from changes the law makes. Things like better coverage of preventive care and closing the so-called donut hole in Medicare's prescription drug benefit.
BERWICK: I think they'll find themselves in better shape after implementation of this act.