Dr. Donald Berwick, a Boston-based pediatrician and former Obama administration health care official, is giving serious consideration to running for governor as a Democrat in 2014, injecting himself into a conversation limited so far to two statewide officeholders, the State House News Service reported Tuesday.
Dr. Berwick, a seasonal Chilmark resident who served for a year and a half as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before resigning in the face of Republican opposition to his permanent confirmation, has been talking with family, friends, civic and business leaders about a possible run.
He met privately on Monday with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray in his State House office to inform the Democrat of his plans, and he has also spoken with state Democratic Party officials.
“That’s correct. I’m strongly considering it,” Mr. Berwick confirmed to the News Service on Tuesday.
Mr. Berwick joins Mr. Murray and Treasurer Steven Grossman among those giving serious thought to a run for governor in 2014 when Gov. Deval Patrick plans to leave office at the end of his second term.
“I had this experience in Washington running CMS and got both impressed and saw dysfunction and what can go wrong in government,” Mr. Berwick said. As a pediatrician, Mr. Berwick said, he cares “deeply” about kids and the future of the state’s youth and believes the state “can do tremendous things to help in that area.”
“I think Massachusetts is already in the lead. It’s already doing good things and the country badly needs a state to surge ahead and show leadership,” Mr. Berwick said.
Considered a national expert in health care, Mr. Berwick’s strength in that area could be attractive in a race that will play out in the early implementation phases of Massachusetts’ new health care cost containment experience, and as the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act take affect.
Though inexperienced on the campaign trail, he could also be a counterweight to the policy expertise of Republican Charlie Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, who is considered a leading candidate to run for the GOP next year after his loss to Patrick in 2010.
Mr. Berwick helped Patrick as an informal advisor on health care policy during his first campaign in 2006.
Mr. Berwick, 66, graduated from Harvard University and Harvard University Medical School before starting his career in medicine as a pediatrician at Harvard Community Health Plan. He maintains affiliations with Children’s Hospital Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital.
In 1989, Dr. Berwick co-founded the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge.
Obama nominated Mr. Berwick to run the Medicare and Medicaid programs in April 2010, but many Senate Republicans at the time urged Obama to withdraw the nomination and vowed to block his confirmation if it came to a vote.
Instead, Obama appointed Mr. Berwick as administrator with a recess appointment in July 2010, allowing him to serve for over a year in the position before he resigned in December 2011 with his chances at permanent confirmation in doubt.
Mr. Berwick, who has been declared an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth for his work helping to reform Great Britain’s National Health Services, angered conservatives with his defense of the British system and suggestion that health care should be rationed. “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open,” Berwick told a biotechnology journal in 2009.
He has also pointedly criticized waste in the health care system, suggesting that 20 percent to 30 percent of health care spending has no benefit to patients.
Since leaving Washington, Mr. Berwick has been a defender of the Affordable Care Act. In March, he told the Washington Post: “I firmly believe that the best way to make care affordable is improve it. The Affordable Care Act is a foundation, and there’s a lot of stuff going on around it. It’s game time now. In the next couple of years we’re going to need to see health care costs coming under firm control. If that happens, I’ll be optimistic.”
Should he run, Mr. Berwick would follow a path already trod by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor who spent time in Washington helping to set up the consumer protection bureau before returning to Massachusetts to seek public office.
Asked if he was encouraged by Warren’s path to the U.S. Senate, Mr. Berwick said, “I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but this state has showed openness to people within the political structure and outside it, so yeah, it’s an encouraging environment to think about this.”
Mr. Berwick said he planned to spend the next few weeks seeking input from as wide a network as possible, though he said he did not have a timetable for making a final decision.
Mr. Berwick lives in Newton with his wife Ann Berwick, a former undersecretary for energy in the Patrick administration and the current chairwoman of the state Department of Public Utilities. He is currently a fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Grossman said over the weekend he was “leaning strongly” towards running for governor. Murray said Monday he will not base his decision on what anyone else does.
According to Democratic Party sources, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll are also giving serious consideration to running, though both would likely defer to Murray should he ultimately get in the race.
Sen. Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), the Cape Air founder who recently began his second term in the Legislature, has also put out feelers about a possible gubernatorial campaign in 2014, sources have said.
“I definitely see an opening for an outsider coming in,” said one Democratic consultant, when asked about the possibility of Mr. Berwick or another outsider stepping into the race as Patrick did with success in 2006.
While it may be early to begin gearing up for a 2014 campaign, both Murray and Grossman have ratcheted up their fundraising efforts, and though Grossman had more cash on hand than Murray at the end of 2012 — $442,203 to $359,493 — Murray raised more in the last year than any other statewide officeholder.
Asked Tuesday about Murray’s fundraising prowess in 2012 and the chance of his running, Gov. Patrick said, “I think he’d be a great governor. He’s been an absolutely fantastic lieutenant governor. And I think he is sorting out the very big personal question that any candidate would about whether this is the right thing to do for him and his family, but I think it would be a very good thing for the Commonwealth.”