AMA, ACAP call on Senate to confirm Tavenner as CMS head

By Mary Mosquera
10:07 AM

President Barack Obama re-nominated Marilyn Tavenner on Thursday to be permanent administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She has been serving as acting administrator since December 2011, when Donald Berwick, MD, stepped down.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will be the first permanent CMS administrator in seven years. Tavenner is the former Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources under then Gov. Tim Kaine and served as principal deputy administrator of CMS under Berwick.

The Senate did not take up Tavenner’s nomination in committee the first time that Obama named her because of sharp political divisions over the administration’s health reform law.

CMS operates programs, such as Medicare for seniors and Medicaid, in partnership with states, for low-income households. Both programs have critical roles in the realization of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and are lightning rods in talks about federal spending cuts.

Tavenner, a nurse and public health advocate, manages the $820 billion federal agency, which ensures healthcare coverage for 100 million Americans, with 10 regional offices and more than 4,000 employees nationwide.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, she also oversees the insurance reforms and health insurance exchange marketplaces included in the law.

Members of the healthcare community have already begun voicing their support of Tavenner’s nomination.

Yesterday, the American Medical Association (AMA) urged the Senate to confirm her as permanent CMS administrator.

"As the acting administrator for CMS, she has proven to be an effective, thoughtful leader. She actively seeks input and considers various sides of an issue, making sure all stakeholders have an opportunity to be heard during decision-making processes," said Jeremy Lazarus, MD, AMA president, in a statement.

"This is an important time for our Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the AMA believes Marilyn Tavenner is the right person to lead CMS through the work of ensuring patients have access to high quality care, and we achieve needed cost savings," he added.

"The track record of the agency — and of Ms. Tavenner’s leadership — over the past year are the best argument for her confirmation as administrator,” said Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), in a statement. “Her steady, able leadership is exactly what the agency — and health care stakeholders — need going forward. … We call upon the Senate to confirm her nomination as quickly as possible and practical."

Confirmation hearings have yet to be scheduled, but Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, released a statement, saying, “The power and impact of this agency on the lives of millions of Americans cannot be overstated. CMS has a budget larger than the Department of Defense, is the nation’s single largest insurer, oversees Medicare and Medicaid, and is set to implement vast portions of the President’s health law. 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 health care 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 as we begin the process of considering Ms. Tavenner’s nomination.”