Industry reacts to Berwick's nomination to CMS post

Thursday, April 22, 2010

WASHINGTON – Dr. Don Berwick could be a powerful ally to the HME industry—that’s if the rhetoric President Barack Obama used in nominating him CMS administrator is any indication.

“I was pleased that President Obama noted that Dr. Berwick has dedicated his life to improving outcomes for patients and providing better care at a lower cost,” said Seth Johnson, vice president of government relations for Pride Mobility Products. “Because home care’s a big part of that.”

Obama nominated Berwick last week, after weeks of speculation. Berwick, a pediatrician, is president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Another good sign, according to AAHomecare: An excerpt from an article Berwick wrote in 1996 for the Annals of Internal Medicine that describes the importance of access to appropriate HME.

“When my brothers and I asked that our father (who was recovering from a fall) be placed in a wheelchair whenever possible, the nurses on the weekend shift told us that no wheelchairs could be found,” the article reads. “They eventually did find a wheelchair, but it was missing the footrest plate that would have protected his injured heel from bruising. Two weeks after he returned home—almost entirely bedridden and almost certainly never to walk again—a wheelchair finally came: the latest model, with postural supports, custom back rests, and hand controls he could never use. It was beautiful. The price: $6,000.”

Berwick pleads: “I propose that we take aim where it matters. Pressure sores are the enemy. Stop them. Errors in drug use are the enemy. Stop them. Fragmentation is the enemy. It creates waste, cost, and disrespect. Stop it.”

Although Berwick’s specific thoughts on HME are largely unknown and industry stakeholders doubt that, if he’s confirmed, he’ll do anything drastic to change competitive bidding or the 36-month oxygen cap, they have a good feeling about Berwick.

“I don’t see him taking the reins at CMS as being harmful for HME,” said Wayne Stanfield, president and CEO of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers. “He’s a master of public policy, and he’s very outspoken about what’s wrong with the healthcare industry. I think he’ll be a strong leader.”

Republicans, still sore about healthcare reform, have promised a divisive confirmation process, but industry stakeholders hope Berwick will be confirmed sooner rather than later. CMS has been without an administrator since 2006.

“Having a fully staffed CMS and HHS is a positive thing,” said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. “Right now, there’s just too much work for the few political appointees to manage.”