Obama nominates new Medicare chief, Berwick steps down

WASHINGTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official who helped lead President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul will step down from the helm of the Medicare program after Republicans blocked his Senate confirmation for the job.

Obama had resubmitted the candidacy of Dr. Donald Berwick as U.S. government insurance chief to the Senate, but will now nominate his deputy to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the White House said on Wednesday.

“Don Berwick did outstanding work at CMS. It’s unfortunate that a small group of Senators obstructed his nomination, putting political interests above the best interests of the American people,” said Jamie Smith, White House deputy press secretary.

Obama asked the Senate in September 2010 to approve keeping Berwick at the head of the government programs for the poor and the elderly, two months after bypassing the body with a recess appointment. The maneuver came after Berwick’s confirmation was held up by Republicans, who expressed worries that Berwick would ration healthcare as a way to reduce costs.

Berwick’s appointment was set to expire at the end of the year, but he plans to resign effective December 2, he said in an email he sent to Health and Human Services staff.

“I write with bittersweet emotions,” he said in the email.

“Our work has been challenging, and the journey is not complete, but we are now well on our way to achieving a whole new level of security and quality for health care in America.”

Nominated to replace Berwick now is his principal deputy Marilyn Tavenner, a former Virginia health secretary and hospital chief executive, who has been with CMS since February 2010, first as acting administrator and currently as principal deputy administrator. (Reporting by Alina Selyukh, Jeff Mason, Caren Bohan and Anna Yukhananov in Washington, editing by Anthony Boadle)