For Obama's head-less CMS, third time's the charm

Marilyn Tavenner
Marilyn Tavenner

Marilyn Tavenner told Senators if confirmed as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, she will “operate CMS like a business” and keep an open door policy to “listen to all the groups accountable” to the programs.

Tavenner, an ICU nurse-turned-hospital exec-turned-Virginia health secretary, is setting a very different tone from President Obama's last nominee for the post, Don Berwick, whose favorable comments about the UK's National Health Service raised industry hackles. She's before the Senate today, in hearings to make her job official at a pivotal time for the program.

While her confirmation has been on ice for more than two years, she comes to Capitol Hill with bipartisan support – Republican majority whip Eric Cantor, a fellow Virginian who has known Tavenner since her days running a hospital in her district, is a fan. She's received support from all the major industry stakeholders, which are impatient for the programs to have permanent leadership.

“At this stage in the healthcare reform conversation, it's important to have a CMS administrator who will ensure that patient care always comes first and that cost containment isn't wedded to failed foreign models of rationing,” said Peter Pitts of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. “Ms. Tavenner has demonstrated both the ability to focus on the job at hand and avoid doctrinaire political debate.”

“It's time for Congress to stop playing politics with major cabinet appointments,” said Coalition for Healthcare Communication executive director John Kamp. “The president won the election and should be given the respect to appoint his people.”

For political reasons, it's been a decade since CMS had a permanent head, and as the Washington Post notes, the senior President Bush's Medicare director Tom Scully has mused that “Mother Theresa or Gandhi couldn't even get confirmed,” so contentious have the politics of the programs become in the age of the Affordable Care Act. An earlier nomination of Tavenner went nowhere.

The Post interviewed Tavenner back in February.