WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama appointed health expert Donald Berwick on Wednesday to run the Medicare and Medicaid programs that provide care to seniors and the poor, bypassing the Senate to fill a key job over Republican objections.
Obama had nominated Berwick in April to run the vast federal medical programs but his Senate confirmation was held up by Republicans who expressed worries that he would ration healthcare as a way to reduce costs.
Berwick, a professor of pediatrics and of public health at Harvard, also served as head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit organization that works to improve healthcare throughout the world.
The president has the power to fill top federal vacancies that would normally require Senate approval while the Senate is in recess. Many presidents have used this power to get around Senate objections.
In addition to Berwick, Obama also named Philip Coyle as associate director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology, and Joshua Gotbaum as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
“It’s unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes,” Obama said. “These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away.”
He said that with more than 180 nominees still pending before the Senate, he hoped senators would agree “to put politics aside” and move forward on the nominations.
Berwick’s appointment as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) place him at the heart of Obama’s overhaul of U.S. healthcare, and the role was too important to leave unfilled, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused the Obama administration of arrogantly circumventing the American people by appointing “one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care to implement their national (healthcare) plan.”
Reporting by Alister Bull and Steve Holland, editing by Alan Elsner