In his first appearance before the Senate, Don Berwick gave a very odd answer in response to questions from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) which go to the heart of concerns about the lack of a vetting process prior to his nomination.
“You stated in an earlier letter that you planned divesting any interests in companies you may oversee and have interaction with CMS,” Grassley asked. “Is this divestiture complete? And if so, will you provide information and records documenting the divestiture?”
Yet Berwick said he could no longer provide information regarding his time as the head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, giving a very odd excuse.
“I recall that conversation, Senator. When you asked for that information I intended to try to provide it. As it happened it was not in my sole authority to provide it and now of course I’m recused from contact with [the Institute for Healthcare Improvement] so I cannot provide it on my own initiative. What I can assure you is that all my past activities and finances were thoroughly reviewed by appropriate ethics officers, under congressional rules.”
As Grassley has pointed out in the past, Berwick has never turned over or made available a comprehensive list of the donors to IHI, the organization he co-founded and ran since 1991. The Hill recently noted that “The donor issue has emerged as the central focus of Grassley’s inquiry,” given that Berwick will in many cases be working with the same organizations and individuals in his role as head of CMS who once provided funding for his organization.
Berwick’s excuse is, in all actuality, not an accurate defense. It is entirely possible to release this information on his own. He is choosing not to do so. This raises even more questions as to why the secrecy is necessary.