Facing GOP opposition, Berwick will step down as Medicare chief

Donald Berwick speaks during an interview in April.
(J. David Ake / Associated Press)

Dr. Donald Berwick, the Harvard pediatrician whom President Obama tapped to head the Medicare and Medicaid programs, will step down next week in the face of staunch Republican opposition to his permanent appointment to implement Obama’s healthcare law.

Berwick, a longtime advocate for patient safety, has been widely hailed by doctors, hospital officials and other healthcare leaders for his trailblazing work to improve the quality and efficiency of American healthcare.

But Republican lawmakers outraged at the new law immediately attacked Berwick when the president nominated him in 2010 to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees government healthcare programs that insure close to 100 million Americans.

In response, Obama circumvented the Senate confirmation process, appointing Berwick while Congress was in recess in July 2010.


The move, which hardened GOP opposition, meant Berwick had to step down by the end of this year.

“Don has led the agency as we have launched exciting new programs that are saving money, fighting fraud, transforming our healthcare delivery system, providing new benefits to people with Medicare, holding insurance companies accountable to consumers, and working to establish Affordable Insurance Exchanges,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told the department Wednesday in announcing Berwick’s departure, which will be effective Dec. 2.

To replace Berwick, the president plans to nominate Marilyn Tavenner, a former nurse and Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.