White House: Medicare and Medicaid Chief Not Bringing British-Style Health Care

Medicaid Administrator Donald M. Berwick, seen in this 2006 photo at a National Institutes of Health seminar.

Medicaid Administrator Donald M. Berwick, seen in this 2006 photo at a National Institutes of Health seminar.  (NIH)

The White House on Sunday said the incoming director of Medicare and Medicaid has no intention of bringing British-style health care to the United States, after Republicans blasted the administration for bypassing Congress to install the controversial nominee this past week. 

President Obama on Wednesday used his recess appointment powers to get around a congressional hearing and floor vote to appoint Dr. Donald Berwick as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The nomination had been held up for months as Republicans raised concerns about Berwick's past statements in favor of "rationing" and his claim to be "in love" with Britain's health care system. 

White House senior adviser David Axelrod, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," defended Obama's decision to do an end-run around Congress and tried to put to rest critics' concerns about the incoming director. 

"He is not coming to implement the British system," Axelrod said, noting that Berwick has also criticized elements of the British system. "I think he's going to serve the country with distinction." 

He said Obama made the recess appointment because it was "vitally important" to fill the post -- at a time when the sweeping health care overhaul is being enacted. 

"It is very, very clear that this nomination ... was going to be one that was going to be dragged on and on and on," Axelrod said. 

But Republicans were infuriated by the way Obama went about confirming Berwick. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said on "Fox News Sunday" that "he is not the right man for the job" and accused the administration of ducking a robust public debate. 

"Clearly they were anticipating a big fight, but that's no reason not to pull this out -- or put the nominee out to the public to have to defend his position. I just don't think the administration wanted to have to do that," he said. 

Though President George W. Bush used recess appointment powers on dozens of occasions during his two terms, Kyl said he was "not going to argue about what President Bush did."