With at least three candidates for governor boasting health care experience on their resumes, maybe Massachusetts is getting ready for yet another round of health care reform.
Theres Republican nominee Charlie Baker, of course, former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Democrat Joe Avellone, trained as a surgeon, was COO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Then theres Don Berwick, also a Democrat, who started his career as a pediatrician with Harvard Community Health Plan, then became its first VP of quality-of-care management. He left HCHP to teach at Harvard Medical school, found and lead the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and be one of the more respected voices in health care policy.
Don Berwick came by this week to meet with the editorial board, and I found him an impressive figure, especially when talking about his field of expertise. Brian Benson has a report here.
Berwick joined the Obama administration early, tapped as director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services by Tom Daschle, who almost became secretary of Health and Human Services, then by Kathleen Sibelius, who did.
President Obama nominated Berwick for the key CMS post, but he faced Republican opposition for, among other things, the sin of saying nice things about Britains National Health system. After Scott Brown was elected to the Senate, giving Republicans the numbers to sustain a filibuster, the Democrats retreated from Berwicks nomination. Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus - the Senate Finance Committee runs Medicare - wouldn't even schedule a confirmation hearing for him. In summer of 2010, Obama put Berwick in the job as a recess appointment, and he left in December 2012 when the appointment expired.
Berwick didnt have much of a hand in writing Obamacare, but claims responsibility for implementing rules extending family coverage to age 26, requiring preventive care be covered, and other successful elements of the Affordable Care Act.
Berwick takes no responsibility for decisions about overseeing the development of the healthcare.gov website, even though it was begun on his watch. The procurement process is where the fundamental mistakes were made in the rollout, people who have investigated it say, starting with the critical decision to manage the project in-house instead of contracting with a private firm to pull the pieces together. Berwick says it was a "staff decision" he had nothing to do with.
But while he may have helped launch Obamacare, his preference is for a more dramatic health care reform: single payer. Berwick says 30 percent of what we spend on health care is wasted, and that by moving to a single payer system, administered through insurance companies, much of that can be recovered and put toward other priorities like education and transportation. And bringing down health care costs would be the best thing Massachusetts could do for the private
My take: Don Berwick's a smart, accomplished man, passionate for compassion, a Cambridge liberal - people should be able to smoke pot, but not play slots, he says - who would push Massachusetts to take the next step in health reform.
Not for the first time, I found myself wondering why someone like this, a non-politician with a successful career and many attractive options, would want to take a year out of their lives to chat it up with would-be donors and town committee members from Pittsfield to Provincetown, stressing their families and draining their bank accounts for a long-shot bid for statewide office.
Don Berwick doesn't have a household name, a fat campaign warchest or an excess of charisma. But the state's campaign system gives a candidate like him a shot. He has spent months talking face-t0-face with the small universe of Democrats who select or become delegates to the state convention in June. If he wins over enough of them to get 15 percent of the delegates in Worcester, he'll have all summer to win over enough voters to overtake the better-known contenders, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman, in the September primary.
However long Berwicks campaign lasts, whoever he runs into along the trail will have a good opportunity to learn something about where health care reform should go from here.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@wickedlocal.com.