What Does Don Berwick Have to Apologize For

On July 26, I read an amazing story in the New York Times.  It seems that Donald Berwick, MD, the co-founder of the Institute for Health Care Improvement and President Obama’s pick for Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has attracted the ire of Republicans because he did, guess what?  Made complimentary comments about the British National Health Care System. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/donald_m_berwick/index.html Comments suggesting that the NHS deserves praise because of its commitment to equity, and primary care, are considered by folks like Senator Orrin Hatch, to be “some of the most outlandish” things the Senator has heard in years.  Berwick is now trying to explain himself and says his comments were taken out of context.  Why apologize?  Why backtrack?  We should be delighted we have someone running CMS who explicitly states that we, in this country, have something to learn from health systems abroad.  We should be thrilled that Berwick is thrilled by the NHS’ commitment to primary care and equitable treatment of all its people.  I hope that everyone who reads this will jump to Dr. Berwick’s defense.  The idea that Don Berwick, who has, to my mind, embraced some industrial models of health care delivery with a bit too much zeal, should be attacked because he isn’t a narrow minded America first and onlyer, is something we should all applaud.  We should be ecstatic that a patient safety pioneer like Berwick is at the helm of our biggest public health care programs.  What Berwick should be reminding Hatch is that over 50% of the American health care system is actually “socialized.”  Does Hatch think Medicare and Medicaid and the VA are outlandish?  Probably.

So let’s write and call and help the good doctor to steer the course we need to badly in this country.  And it’s toward Europe not away from it.

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