Medicare head faces irritated GOP senators

Nov. 17, 2010 at 7:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- President Obama's Medicare chief, during a brief Senate committee hearing Wednesday, faced angry Republican lawmakers intent on repealing healthcare reform.

Dr. Donald Berwick, who was appointed administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services during a congressional recess in July, told the Senate Finance Committee seniors would be unable to afford "life-saving medicine" if the recently enacted healthcare reforms were repealed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I can't think of a worse plan," said Berwick. "It would mean that seniors would not be getting the 50 percent discount on prescription drugs. Would we tell them … that they will not be able to afford life-saving medicine? Would we tell them they would not be getting life-saving access to preventive services? … That we won't work on safer care? … That we're not going to be more transparent? … That we're not going to work hard on fraud and abuse?"

Deflecting Berwick's barrage of questions, Republicans repeatedly zeroed in on his recess appointment.

"This a doggone important committee. We overview 60 percent of the spending in this country," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who likely will become the committee's ranking member in 2011. "I want to know what's going on. I want answers to my questions. … This is pathetic." He and other GOP members grumbled that only 90 minutes were set aside for the hearing.

"I can assure you that you will not get special treatment next year," Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., told Berwick, warning him of the more thorough grilling a Republican-controlled House would give him in the next session.

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