Baucus Says Finance Committee Will Call Recess-Appointed Medicare Director Berwick for 'Oversight' Hearing in 'Not Too Distant Future'

By Nicholas Ballasy | August 5, 2010 | 2:33 PM EDT

( - When asked whether he would hold a "confirmation" hearing for Dr. Donald Berwick--who was recess-appointed by President Obama to run Medicare and Medicaid instead of being confirmed by the committee and the full Senate - Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) said he would be bringing Berwick in for "oversight functions" - suggesting that the committee is not going to hold an actual confirmation hearing.

Baucus did not say when such an "oversight" hearing would actually take place, saying only that it would be in the "not too distant future." He did not specify if that meant before the November election, in this Congress.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, asked Baucus, “Even though the director, the recess-appointed director of Medicare Donald Berwick was given a recess appointment, do you plan on having hearings, confirmation hearings on Dr. Berwick?”
Sen. Baucus said, “He’ll be up before the committee at an appropriate time so we can appropriately exercise oversight functions over the CMS. I can’t tell you exactly when that’s going to be but at some point in the not too distant future.”
Sen. Baucus’ committee was in charge of overseeing Berwick’s nomination to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). However, Baucus did not schedule a confirmation hearing between April 19, when President Obama sent Berwick’s nomination to the Senate for consideration and July 7, when Obama recess-appointed him to the position, bypassing the Senate confirmation process entirely. 
In a statement issued on the same day that Obama made the recess appointment, Baucus said: “I'm troubled that, rather than going through the standard nomination process, Dr. Berwick was recess appointed. Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee--and answered.’’
Berwick has been the subject of criticism by many Republican members of the Finance Committee over some of his past statements concerning the rationing of health care and redistribution of wealth. In a report Berwick wrote entitled, “A Transatlantic Review of the NHS at 60," published on July 26, 2008, he said:

“Cynics beware: I am romantic about the National Health Service (NHS); I love it.” the NHS is Britian’s government-run health care system.

Berwick made other controversial remarks in a July 1, 2008 speech at Wembley Stadium honoring the 60th anniversary of the NHS.

Berwick said: “You could have protected the wealthy and the well, instead of recognizing that sick people tend to be poorer and that poor people tend to be sicker. And that any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must—must--redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional. Britain, you chose well."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Finance Committee, said of Berwick, “He’s made a lot of statements that are very controversial. Look, there’s no question he’s an excellent pediatrician, he’s a very competent doctor, he’s a professor, he’s taught medicine -- but he’s made some of the most outlandish statements I’ve ever heard."

“Look, the reason we have the United States Senate, the reason we have the Senate Finance Committee, is to hold hearings so that we can look into these people and see just what should be known about them," said Hatch. "And I think it’s ridiculous to have someone who’s going to head CMS, which is a huge part of the economy, and not have one opportunity to question him about his viewpoints.”

The Finance Committee’s majority press office did not respond to's request for comment on this story.