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President Obama Re-Nominates Marilyn Tavenner To Be Permanent CMS Administrator

February 8, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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The President’s re-nomination of Tavenner may or may not lead to an assured confirmation, Capitol Hill sources say

On Feb. 7, President Barack Obama re-nominated Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., to be administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Tavenner, 61, has been acting administrator of CMS since 2011, when then-director Donald Berwick, M.D., stepped down, after the term of his recess appointment had concluded. The President had originally nominated Tavenner to the permanent post in November 2011, but the U.S. Senate never held hearings on the nomination, which expired at the end of 2012; thus, this nomination is a re-nomination.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Tavenner will be the first permanent CMS administrator in seven years. She served as the agency’s principal deputy administrator during 2010-2011. Prior to that, Tavenner had served as secretary of health and human resources in the cabinet of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine from 2006 to 2010. From 1981 to 2005, she was employed by the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), beginning as a nurse at Johnson-Wills Hospital, where she eventually became CEO of that hospital in 1993.

Marilyn Tavenner, R.N.

Industry reaction was positive. “Marilyn’s varied and rich background as a nurse, healthcare executive and government official at the state and national levels gives her a unique perspective and demonstrates that she is a very capable leader of the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, in a statement. “We enthusiastically support her nomination and look forward to continuing our work with Marilyn to improve healthcare in America.”

And Glen Stream, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, “During this time of change, America’s healthcare system needs a steady, respected and pragmatic leader at the helm of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Marilyn Tavenner’s nomination as CMS director fits the bill.”

However, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.), ranking member of the Senate Finance committee, said in a statement, “I’ve met with Ms. Tavenner and found her to be smart and diligent. With Medicare and Medicaid on an unsustainable fiscal path, the cost of healthcare continuing to rise, and with the implementation of the health law moving forward, there are many questions she’ll need to fully answer before I decide whether or not to support her nomination. I look forward to working with chairman Baucus [Max Baucus, D-Mt.] as we begin the process of considering Ms. Tavenner’s nomination.”

In theory, there should be little controversy about Senate confirmation. But articles in two publications that cover Capitol Hill goings-on, The Hill and POLITICO, both offered speculation that all may not be smooth sailing. The Hill’s Sam baker and Elise Viebeck wrote that “CMS has only had acting directors for the better part of the past decade, and it would be an uphill climb for Tavenner to be the nominee who breaks the trend—any Obama nominee for any healthcare post will be a hard sell in the deeply divided Senate.” Still, The Hill’s bloggers noted, “Tavenner has a lot of allies, including House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who worked with Tavenner when she ran Virginia’s Medicaid program and praised her initial nomination” (though of course as a member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Cantor won’t be able to vote directly on her nomination).

And, POLITICO’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote that “[I]t’s unclear whether Senate Democrats will move her confirmation given that it has become so difficult to get a Medicare chief confirmed in the past few years under both Republican and Democratic administrations.” In fact, Haberkorn quoted Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus as being “noncommittal” about holding a committee hearing and pursuing a Senate floor vote. “I’ll have to give it some thought,” Haberkorn quoted him as saying in a Feb. 8 report.

Healthcare Informatics will continue to keep its readers informed on ongoing developments with regard to this story.