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On Way Out, Medicare Boss Bashes 'Extreme' Waste

Donald Berwick says 20-30% of health care spending helps no one
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2011 4:07 PM CST

(Newser) – Between 20% and 30% of all US health care spending is pure “waste,” according to departing Medicare and Medicaid chief Donald Berwick. “Much is done that does not help patients at all, and many physicians know it,” Berwick said in an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, his last day on the job. He cited overtreatment of patients, the failure to coordinate care, complex administrative systems, burdensome regulations, and fraud as the main reasons for the “extremely high level of waste.”

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If his estimate is right, the government is flushing away up to $250 billion each year. Berwick expressed frustration with the slow-moving bureaucracy. “I came with an agenda. I wanted to try to change the agency to be a force for improvement,” he said. But “government is more complex than I had realized.” He also bashed Republicans that had depicted him as a proponent of health care rationing, saying the complaint was “purely political, a world of sound bites.” (Read more Donald Berwick stories.)

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