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Berwick Speaks! (And Tries To Make Peace With A Prickly Health Insurance Lobby)

Since the uproar surrounding Don Berwick’s recess appointment to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, he hasn’t said much — at least not publicly. So today’s speech to, of all people, the health insurance lobby, was a coming out of sorts for the pediatrician and former head of the Cambridge nonprofit, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Here are his full remarks, and a bit of reporting by MedPage Today:

Dr. Don Berwick wants to focus on reducing medical errors


“Let’s look ahead, not back. We have a job to do and we need to make care better for America,” [Berwick] told members of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), who are in Washington this week for the group’s annual Medicare and Medicaid conference.

Berwick urged the AHIP to work with the federal government to smoothly implement reform and to help make drastic changes to improve the U.S. healthcare system.

But he warned that administration wasn’t interesting in wasting time with “inauthentic” players — groups that they feel are interested in reforming the system, but really want to keep the status quo.

Berwick told the gathering that he wanted to make “healthcare in American as good as it can possibly be. As good as we have every right to expect it to be.”

A major component of that effort, he said, is to focus first on preventing medical errors and drastically improve safety.

“I think it’s time for rededication to safety,” he said. “I propose we aim for an immediate reduction in number of medical injuries.”

Berwick started his speech to the AHIP meeting on a personal note — sharing the story of his father, who spent his career as a general practitioner in a small town in Massachusetts, making house calls, delivering babies, and reading x-rays.

“My father would have laughed if someone called him a medical home,” Berwick said. “Or said he practiced patient-centered care. He would have asked — what other type is there?”

For more on Berwick, there’s a profile in Time, including a story about Dr. Berwick’s own knee surgery, and how it was a catalyst for his quest to improve health care in the U.S.