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Obama recess appointment ‘dangerous’ for the elderly, SBC ethicist Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s recess appointment of a controversial advocate for health-care rationing demonstrates how committed he is to socialized medicine and makes life “more dangerous” for elderly Americans, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said.

Obama announced Donald Berwick’s appointment as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) July 7 while Congress was in recess. The president’s designation of Berwick as a recess appointment means the nominee will not face a Senate hearing or confirmation vote. Obama had announced in April his nomination of Berwick to the post before deciding to avoid the Senate process with his recess action.

As a recess appointment, Berwick will be able to serve through the end of 2011.

Berwick — the president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., and a professor at Harvard Medical School — has promoted health-care rationing to save money. He also has lauded Great Britain’s National Health Service and its National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which guides treatments by the government-run system.

Obama’s action drew opposition from Land and other pro-life leaders, as well as Republicans and at least one Democrat in the Senate.

“President Obama, by appointing Dr. Berwick and then ramming him down the throats of the American people through a recess appointment, shows the degree to which the Obama administration is committed to the rationing of health care to the elderly and ultimately its commitment to a single-payer, British-style, socialized-medicine system,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Then-Senator Obama said in 2004 that he thought the single-payer system was the best system for the country but you couldn’t do it all at once. ObamaCare was the first giant step toward socialized medicine, and this is the second.”

“To put Dr. Berwick in charge of administering $500 billion in cuts to Medicare just as the baby boomers begin to access that system is like putting the most ravenous fox in complete charge of the hen house,” Land said. “Dr. Berwick’s appointment should be headlined: ‘Medical rationing is here.’ He is the No. 1 advocate for rationing care to the elderly and to the terminally ill as cost-saving measures. Life just got more dangerous for every American over 65.”

Land said Berwick received a recess appointment “because he was going to face the grilling of a lifetime in the U.S. Senate.”

The head of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) called Berwick a “one-man death panel.”

“While Americans may not remember the agency he heads, he will quickly become known as Obama’s rationing czar,” NRLC Executive Director David O’Steen said in a written statement. “President Obama’s appointment of this open advocate of rationing to implement his health care law underlines the need for repeal before untold numbers of vulnerable Americans suffer death from denial of life-saving treatment.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., said in a written release, “As if shoving a trillion dollar government takeover of health care down the throat of a disapproving American public wasn’t enough, apparently the Obama administration intends to arrogantly circumvent the American people yet again by recess appointing one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care to implement their national plan.

“Just over three months after passage of this misguided law, with Americans’ worst fears about it being realized every day, the fact that this administration won’t allow the man charged with implementing the president’s plan to cut $500 billion out of Medicare to testify about his plans for the care of our nation’s seniors is truly outrageous.”

In announcing Berwick and two other recess appointments, Obama called it “unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes.”

A senator from Obama’s party said, however, he was “troubled” by the recess appointment.

“Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee.

Among Berwick’s views cited with concern by Land and NRLC:

— He said in a 2009 interview, “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open,” NRLC reported.

— He said in a 1994 article, according to NRLC, “Most metropolitan areas in the United States should reduce the number of centers engaging in cardiac surgery, high-risk obstetrics, neonatal intensive care, organ transplantation, tertiary cancer care, high-level trauma care, and high-technology imaging.”

— He “has expressed admiration for the British National Health Service to the point of saying that he has romantic love for it,” Land said.

— He “has praised effusively the British government committee NICE that rations health care to the elderly and terminally ill currently,” Land said. “He has expressed a desire to emulate that system here.”

Britain’s five-year survival rate for men with cancer is 45 percent, while it is 66 percent in the United States, according to NRLC. For women, the contrast is 53 percent in England and 63 percent in this country, NRLC reported. These differences are largely caused by NICE’s refusal to make available front-line cancer drugs commonly used in the United States, according to NRLC.

Obama signed into law in March the health-care reform legislation that is expected to cost in its entirety $940 billion over 10 years. Critics have labeled the new law as “ObamaCare.”

Pro-lifers strongly opposed the bill because it would subsidize abortion coverage in health care plans and, they say, increase the rate of the procedure. They also expressed concerns about health-care rationing.

NRLC charged the measure, which takes effect in 2014, would result in rationing because of the authority given an advisory board to make proposals to limit growth in spending on health care. It also said the law authorizes the secretary of Health and Human Services to institute “quality and efficiency” standards on doctors and other health-care providers.

The mission of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to its website, is “to ensure effective, up-to-date health care coverage and to promote quality care for beneficiaries.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.