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Berwick named by Obama to head CMS

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has nominated Harvard professor Dr. Donald Berwick, a health care policy expert, as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association welcomed the nomination, which was announced late Monday and still must be approved by the Senate.

The retail pharmacy groups noted that Berwick comes to the position at a critical time, with the Obama administration set to implement its recently passed health care reform plan.

"The National Association of Chain Drug Stores looks forward to working with Dr. Donald Berwick upon his confirmation on our shared commitment to health care quality, improved patient health and cost-effectiveness," NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson said in a statement Tuesday.

"Particularly as much of the focus on health care reform now will shift to the executive branch, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will play a major role in issues that affect peoples’ lives, and the ability of health care providers to improve public health," he pointed out. "On key pharmacy issues that have been rightfully included in health care reform, NACDS is eager to engage in this process."

Anderson added that NACDS aims to work with CMS on key issues for the chain drug retailers, namely highlighting the industry’s role in promoting medication adherence and improving health care outcomes while reining in the cost of care.

"Pharmacies are the face of neighborhood health care and are poised to play a major role in helping to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health care delivery. When one thinks of the estimated $290 billion in annual costs that are associated with failure to take medications correctly, it is time to look to pharmacy to boost medication adherence to improve patient health and reduce these preventable costs," Anderson explained. "We look forward to a cooperative dialogue on these and related issues, for the good of patients nationwide."

A pediatrician, Berwick currently serves as president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He also is 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, for the Department of Medicine at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and a consultant in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Berwick holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and he received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School.

"The National Community Pharmacists Association congratulates Donald Berwick on his nomination to lead the agency that provides the regulations and oversight for the delivery of health care for millions of Americans," commented Bruce Roberts, executive vice president and CEO of NCPA.

Roberts noted that Medicare and Medicaid make up about 40% of the average community pharmacy’s revenue and that this percentage that will grow as baby boomers retire and more people become eligible for Medicaid benefits under health care reform.

"Thus, the policies CMS creates have a profound effect on the nearly 23,000 community pharmacies we represent, often in underserved communities that lack access to many other health care providers," he stated. "We had to work tirelessly to get a prompt payment requirement for Medicare Part D prescription drug claims, an exemption from the Medicare Part B durable medical equipment accreditation requiremen, and to scale back major cuts to Medicaid generic prescription drug reimbursement. These are just some of the ways in which CMS policies can affect patients’ ability to access their local pharmacy.

"If CMS Administrator-designate Berwick is confirmed, NCPA is committed to working constructively with him. We want to continue offering practical solutions to ensure Medicare and Medicaid are efficient, effective and maintain longstanding patient-community pharmacist relationships," Roberts added. "When that occurs pharmacists can be focused on using their expertise to improve the quality of patient care, while reducing medical spending in federal health programs."

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 IOM’s governing council from 2002 to 2007. In 1997 and 1998, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Healthcare Industry.

"Dr. Berwick has dedicated his career to improving outcomes for patients and providing better care at lower cost," Obama said in a statement Monday. "That’s one of the core missions facing our next CMS administrator, and I’m confident that Don will be an outstanding leader for the agency and the millions of Americans it serves."


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