Ranking Finance Committee Republican Undecided on Whether He'll Vote for Rationing Advocate to Run Medicare

By Matt Cover | June 1, 2010 | 6:10 PM EDT

Dr. Donald Berwick (Photo from Harvard University School of Public Health Web site)

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that he had not yet decided to support or oppose the nomination of Dr. Donald Berwick to run the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid.
The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid and would hold confirmation hearings on Berwick’s nomination.
“I have not made up my mind yet [on] how I will vote on him,” Grassley told CNSNews.com in an interview Wednesday. “But it’s quite obvious from my votes on the health care bill that I’m very concerned about the health care bill leading to rationing.”
Berwick, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard University and the head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said in a 2009 interview: “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care – the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”
Grassley said that while negotiating with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) last year, he had tried to prevent the government from acting like the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society; deciding whether Medicare patients would receive life-extending treatments or whether the government would merely manage their pain.
“What I have tried to avoid in all the discussions last year was something like the Hemlock Society might try to do: have the government decision making or influence on you ought to treat or not treat,” Grassley added.
“I don’t know whether that’s his [Berwick’s] philosophy or not, so I guess the most definitive answer I can give you is [that] I’ve listened to Senator Pat Roberts [R-Kan.] raise a lot of questions about him and that has caused me to probably give the nomination more serious consideration than I otherwise would,” he said.
Roberts, another member of the Finance Committee, has warned of Berwick’s pro-rationing views, saying that his nomination is a signal that Obama intends to ration health care in Medicare.
When CNSNews.com asked Grassley if he would question Berwick about rationing, Grassley said that he intends to question Berwick about his stance on the issue – adding that he will let Roberts take the lead on the issue since it was the Kansas senator who first raised the issue.
“Well, I’m going to have questions, and I suppose they’ll be along that line, but then I’m going to also – since Pat Roberts started raising the questions about how rural health care might be taken care of and rationing – I think I’m going to have some deference to Pat Roberts on those,” Grassley said.
“But there’ll be plenty of questions for me to have and as ranking member, I have a responsibility to make sure that we cover every base,” Grassley added.
In the same 2009 interview, Berwick called federal rationing of health care a “sensible social decision, saying that government must decide whether there might be a “better use” of taxpayer dollars than providing the newest medicines and technologies.
“We can make a sensible social decision and say, ‘Well, at this point, to have access to a particular additional benefit [medicine or treatment] is so expensive that our taxpayers have better use for those funds,” he stated.