Medicare Director Who Said Health-Care Systems 'Must' Redistribute Wealth Says He's Happy With Obamacare

By Nicholas Ballasy | December 6, 2010 | 12:26 PM EST

Dr. Donald Berwick, President Obama's unconfirmed Medicare administrator. (AP Photo/Goodman Media International, Inc.)

( - Dr. Donald Berwick—whom President Barack Obama made director of the Medicare system without a Senate confirmation vote after a national controversy sparked over statements Berwick had made including one in which he insisted that a just health-care system must redistribute wealth—says he is satisfied with Obamacare on that score.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a law with more help in it, more sense of responsibility than the Affordable Care Act--not in my time," Berwick told in response to a question about whether Obamcare does enough to redistribute wealth.

Berwick answered the question in a Q&A session at the end of a speech he gave on Friday at a conference sponsored in Washington, D.C. by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a non-profit focused on improving the quality of health care.

Prior to being named administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Berwick was a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and an outspoken advocate of Great Britain's socialized health-care system, the National Health Service (NHS).

In a 2008 speech in England celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the NHS, Berwick said, “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."

Obama initially nominated Berwick to run the CMS in March shortly after Obama had signed his health-care plan into law. CMS, which spends more money than any other federal agency, will be a key bureaucracy in carrying out the Obamacare law. Due to Berwick's outspoken advocacy of Britain's single-payer health care system and his insistence that a just health-care system "must" redistribute wealth his nomination became an issue among Senate Republicans.

The Senate Finance Committee that had oversight over Berwick's nomination never brought him in for a confirmation hearing where he could be questioned  by committee Republicans. When Congress briefly left town for its July 4 recess, Obama gave Berwick a recess appointment that will allow him to run Medicare through next year even if he is never confirmed. 

In the question-and-answer session at the end of his address at the National Committee on Quality Assurance conference, asked Berwick: "Do you think the new health care law--President Obama's health care law--does enough and a sufficient job to redistribute wealth?"

“As a nation, when we’ve committed to progress, we have recognized the fact that sometimes people who have a disadvantage need help from others," said Berwick. "That’s where Medicare and Medicaid came from in the first place, helping people who would have had trouble helping themselves. The same is true today and will be true, and we can be a society in which we try to reach out to help.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a law with more help in it, more sense of responsibility than the Affordable Care Act--not in my time," said Berwick.

“Think about the person who has a chronic illness and is inflicted with it and, who, before that law, could not find coverage and, as of 2014, definitely will be able to because that law now says that’s possible," said Berwick. "Taking care of people who are at disadvantage and helping them make sure that they can get access to what they need is an important agenda in that law.”

At the same conference, also in reference to Obamacare, Berwick said it would be false to claim that the United States can make the quality of care better for the 100 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries without changing the entire health care system.

“Health and heath care for all Americans--Well, we have 100 million beneficiaries, give or take, those are the people first on my mind," said Berwick. "I have to make sure that I’ve got their back as do all of my colleagues at CMS. But I know that it would be illusory to claim that we can make care better for 100 million people and not do that with total change to the system--there would be no such plan."

“We’re in it together," he said. "That idea that we’re a force and a partner to make care better for everyone infuses every day of my work.”