On April 19, 2010 the Obama Administration announced the nomination of Dr. Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). He was supposed to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, but that will not happen during this Congressional Session. Using his recess appointment powers, President Obama appointed Dr. Donald Berwick to lead CMS on July 7, 2010. Congress is on 4th of July recess and as a consequence, Dr. Berwick will lead CMS at least through the end of this year.
Recess appointments are set forth in the Constitution. “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the end of their next Session” (II, 2,3). The provision original intent was to fill vacancies that actually occurred during a recess, but it has since morphed into an all-purpose executive tool as a way to counter Senate challenges. However, it is only a temporary measure as the recess appointment is not permanent.
The 111th Congressional Session ends in December. Dr. Berwick’s recess appointment will come up for Senate confirmation hearings, assuming he is still the President’s choice to fill the position; it’s just that it will be done by the 112th Congress.
This is by no means anything new. President Eisenhower appointed three justices during recesses: Earl Warren, William Brennan, and Potter Stewart. All three occurred immediately before an election, and all were confirmed the following spring by a new Congress.
Dr. Donald Berwick has served as Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM). He also served on the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) governing Council from 2002 to 2007. In 1997 and 1998, he was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Healthcare Industry. Dr. Berwick is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his work, including the 1999 Ernest A. Codman Award, the 2001 Alfred I. DuPont Award for excellence in children’s health care from Nemours, the 2002 American Hospital Association’s Award of Honor, the 2006 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award for Individual Achievement from the National Quality Forum and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the 2007 William B. Graham Prize for Health Services Research, and the 2007 Heinz Award for Public Policy from the Heinz Family Foundation.
Dr. Berwick before his appointment was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Health Care Policy at the Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is also a pediatrician, adjunct staff in the Department of Medicine at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and a consultant in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital.
He has served as Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM). He holds a Master in Public Policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School.
When Dr. Berwick arrives at CMS he walks into an Agency that has been without political leadership since Tom Scully resigned back on January 20, 2008 with the change in Administrations. Significant demands of his time will be spent with the implementation of health care reforms, but other issues such as MMSEA Section 111 will be before him as well. As challenges arise with Section 111 implementation, leadership – appointed or confirmed is good to have so that concerns can be properly framed and presented.
To learn more about Dr. Don Berwick’s appointment visit CBS News at: