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Medicare's top boss touts health care reform in Eau Claire: Berwick visits at invitation of Rep. Kind

August 19, 2011
In The News

Eau Claire Leader Telegam

By Jon Swedien

Hospitals and clinics should be compensated based on the quality of their care, not the number of procedures they provide, the top federal official overseeing Medicare and Medicaid said during a visit Thursday to Eau Claire.

Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - an agency of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department that administers Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP - and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, met with local health care providers at Sacred Heart Hospital to discuss reforms of the current system.

"We need to align the payment system toward ... outcomes," Berwick told the group of local hospital and clinic administrators.

President Barack Obama appointed Berwick to his position in 2010. Before that he was the CEO of a Cambridge, Mass., health care think tank, a Harvard professor and a pediatrician.

Berwick and Kind said reforming the nation's health care system will be difficult but necessary for the U.S. to reduce its deficit, given that health care costs are a major contributor to the nation's fiscal problems.

"This is going to take time," Kind said. "The truth is you're not going to change the way you pay for one-fifth of the entire U.S. economy overnight."

While Kind has supported the Obama administration's attempts to reform the nation's health care system, U.S. Rep Sean Duffy has been critical of parts of the health care law. Duffy, R-Ashland, in January voted to repeal the law - a measure that ultimately failed in Congress - after initially saying he wouldn't do so unless Republicans proposed an alternative.
eau Claire Leader Telegram

By Jon Swedien

Duffy said he doesn't like the law's establishment of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel that would set Medicare reimbursement rates paid to hospitals, with the goal of reining in costs. It would have the power to force Medicare cuts if costs rise beyond certain levels and Congress fails to act.

Fifteen members, all appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, would sit on the panel, which has yet to be created.

Duffy said if the panel were to cut reimbursements too much, it could hurt hospitals and limit their ability to serve patients. National media outlets have reported the board is receiving solid opposition from Republicans, who have dubbed it a "rationing panel," and some Democrats. The New York Times reported in spring that opponents fear the panel would usurp congressional spending power over one of the government's most important and costly social programs.

Berwick said the health care reform law won't result in the rationing of health care and won't deny medical services to people who need them. Instead, he said, it would seek savings by reducing unnecessary procedures and helping hospitals and clinics become more efficient.

Kind and Berwick praised Eau Claire-area hospitals for being models of efficiency. Berwick said health care providers elsewhere in the U.S. could learn from those in this part of the country.

Specifically, Berwick praised Wisconsin for measuring patient outcomes and making the data public, saying that practice is one of the best ways for hospitals and clinics to find ways to improve.

Randall Linton, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, praised Berwick's support for rewarding quality care. So did Sacred Heart Hospital's chief operating officer, Faye Deich, who said she and Berwick discussed ways federal regulations could be reworked to reduce health care providers' administrative costs.