CMS Chief Expected to Bring Continuity
Marilyn Tavenner was easily confirmed by the Senate Wednesday to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The 91-7 vote makes Tavenner the first confirmed CMS leader since 2006.
When Tavenner was first nominated in late 2011 she did not receive Senate confirmation. She succeeded former CMS administrator Dr. Donald Berwick, who announced his resignation in 2011 as Republicans in the Senate threatened to block his confirmation.
Many industry experts view Tavenner as a patient-centered pragmatist who is widely expected to continue with the agency’s reform work, and few observers believe she will make major changes from current policies. However, Tavenner, who brings about 20 years of nursing and 13 years in hospital management to the position, will likely continue to focus on the implications of policy decisions during this period of health care reform.
Prior to her first term, Tavenner had been serving as the agency’s second-in-command. Previously, Tavenner was secretary of the Virginia Health and Human Resources Department (HHS), where she was appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine.
'Perfect Blend of Training and Experience'
“She has the perfect blend of training and experience for this job,” said Patrick Finnerty, former Medicaid director for the state of Virginia, in an interview with The Medicare NewsGroup. Finnerty, who worked under Tavenner for four years, cites her work as a nurse, administrator and public servant.
Tavenner’s advocates highlight her experience with patients, as well as in the boardroom and with the Virginia Legislature. As HHS secretary, she oversaw 12 agencies employing 18,000 people. Prior to her position there, she spent 25 years working for the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, where she rose from staff nurse to president of outpatient services in one of the nation’s largest hospital chains. Tavenner holds a bachelor of science in nursing and a master of arts in health administration, both from the Virginia Commonwealth University.
Those who have worked with Tavenner and are familiar with her management style say she’s accessible and eager to hear all sides of an issue.
“She’s not a micro-manager,” Finnerty said. “But she’s involved in all the major programs. She will make a decision, but she wants input from various groups that may be affected.”
In November 2011, Tavenner spoke to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, where she discussed how to control health care costs, according to Matt Salo, executive director of the organization.
“The only way to stabilize costs without cutting benefits or provider fees is to improve care to those with the highest health care costs,” Tavenner said to the association, according to The Washington Post. Tavenner also said she opposed Republican efforts to turn Medicaid into a block grant that would limit the amount of federal funding states can receive for the program, The Washington Post reported.
An 'Ability to Bridge Differences'
Tavenner faced a smoother confirmation process than her predecessor. Many conservatives view Berwick as a proponent of a controversial single-payer health care system and health care rationing. Tavenner is known more for her management capabilities rather than far-reaching policy ambitions. Having held senior management positions in corporate settings, including three years as CEO of Richmond, Va.-based Johnston-Willis Hospital, she was viewed as an acceptable candidate to Republicans.
Still, as the official leader of the CMS, Tavenner will face staunch opponents of President Obama’s health care reform legislation and much of the CMS’ work. In the vote, there were seven dissenting Republicans, among them Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Referring to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, McConnell said in a statement in Politico, “The new administrator’s time and focus will be diverted on what my Democratic colleagues have called an impending ‘train wreck,’ rather than strengthening Medicare and Medicaid at a time when they face enormous challenges.”
Finnerty, who witnessed Tavenner work both sides of the aisle in the Virginia Legislature, said she has an ability to bridge differences.
“What I saw from both parties is that they respected her,” he said. “And she’s in this for the right reason: to help people.”
-- by Susan Pasternak for The Medicare NewsGroup