Former CMS Head Berwick Announces Run for Massachusetts Governor

A former top White House administration health official, Don Berwick, formally announced Monday that he is running for governor of Massachusetts.

Berwick is a physician and health policy expert who ran the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for President Barack Obama. But amid the heated politics of health reform, Republicans refused to confirm him to the position atop CMS. They said his comments praising Britain’s health care system suggested he favored rationing, an interpretation he disputed.

“As a doctor, an educator, an innovator and someone who has dedicated his professional career to making things work better and to helping people, I am ready to lead,” Berwick said in a statement formally announcing his candidacy to succeed Deval Patrick, a Democrat who is not seeking a third term in 2014.

Several other Democratic names are being mentioned as possible candidates, including former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, Rep. Michael Capuano and state Treasurer Steven Grossman. On the GOP side, former state official Charlie Baker is considering another bid, after losing in 2010. There’s also been speculation that former Republican Sen. Scott Brown could get in the race.

Berwick, who has spent his career practicing medicine and running a leading health care improvement organization, has never held or even sought elected office. But he stated earlier this year that his time in Washington had made him want to stay in the public arena and try to enact policy ideas statewide. Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to expand health service coverage, is now trying to address its high health costs.

Berwick headed CMS as a recess appointee, meaning President Obama put him in the job after the Senate did not act on his nomination. But a recess appointment lasts a limited amount of time, and Berwick left Washington in late 2011 when it became clear that confirmation was impossible.

Berwick was never able to move past his comments in an interview a few years ago that “the decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open”, a comment Berwick said was snipped out of the larger context of his career.

Before going to Medicare, Berwick, a pediatrician by training, had led the Massachusetts-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which had incubated some of the ideas being tested under the health care law to improve the quality and efficiency of U.S. health care. He has said that he has come to think of health and wellness as encompassing not just medical care but a clean, safe environment and quality education.

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