More on Policy and Legislation

Berwick's resignation a signal of a faulty political system

It came as a surprise to no one that Donald Berwick, MD, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, would not be carrying on in the position once his term ended on Dec. 31, but many were surprised last week when he announced his resignation would be effective on Dec. 2.

[See also: Berwick to step down at CMS, Obama nominates Tavenner .]

While much of the focus now is on Berwick's replacement – the Obama administration is nominating Marilyn Tavenner, a nurse who is the principal deputy and chief operating officer at CMS and has already served as CMS' acting administrator prior to Berwick's appointment – some in the industry are reflecting on Berwick's departure and the larger issues it signifies: a political system that is too polarized to be effective.

Berwick's resignation – and the opposition he faced in Congress – is an example of the shallowness of our political system said John Chessare, MD, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "He gave the American people a gift," said Chessare, who calls Berwick his mentor. "He accepted President Obama's request to do it (become CMS administrator) and then because of the foolishness and the pettiness of our national political system, he's leaving."

"While I do support his vision for making healthcare more patient centered, focusing on decreasing hospital mistakes and errors and making healthcare more affordable for everyone, I'm more disappointed that he's become a casualty in the political struggle over Obama's signature healthcare reform law," said Andrew Spanswick, MSW, chairman and CEO of KLEAN, a residential treatment center in West Hollywood, Calif.

The much acknowledged "problem" with Berwick wasn't his qualifications – he spent 30 years at the forefront of healthcare innovation and improvement and is widely admired in the healthcare industry – it was politics. Specifically, old writings expressing an admiration for the British National Health Service, his recess appointment by the president and so-called Obamacare in general.

[See also: Berwick grilled by Senate Finance Committee.]

"The political drama and bureaucratic struggle between the Senate and President Obama almost outshines the real issues that fall on the Administrator of Medicare and Medicaid Services, whose decisions reportedly affect 1 in 3 Americans who enter a hospital for treatment," Spanswick said. "While that's only 33 percent, I think Mr. Berwick's legacy will be centered around someone who embraced technology to better connect the fragmented health system, a battle fought for the 99 percent."

"Dr. Berwick's resignation comes as a result of hyper-focus on universally mandated healthcare coverage, and while that hot-topic issue is what's being debated, too few are talking about the effects this abrupt announcement will have on the incredible momentum that has been happening with medium to large healthcare provider organizations beginning to revamp their IT in order to provide better patient care, patient customer service and patient outcomes," said John Sung Kim, CEO of, a healthcare marketing automation service.

"From a techie perspective, politics has won over technological progress," he added. "I don't see how that's a good thing for any of us collectively – whether we agree with universal healthcare coverage or not. Many of us are missing the real tragedy of Dr. Berwick's resignation."

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.

Show All Comments