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Senate confirms Marilyn Tavenner as CMS administrator

May 16, 2013
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief, with Mark Hagland, Contributing Editor
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Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., the acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), on Wednesday, May 15, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as CMS’s permanent administrator, the first nominee for the job to receive formal confirmation in nearly a decade. The vote for Tavenner’s nomination passed by 91 to 7 on Wednesday afternoon, POLITICO reported.

Shortly afterwards, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius said, “I’m pleased to announce that the Senate voted today to confirm Marilyn Tavenner as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, making her the first CMS administrator to be confirmed in over nine years. Marilyn brings with her a breadth of experience and expertise from virtually all angles of healthcare policy and delivery, having served as a hospital, a state health official, and a registered nurse,” Sibelius added. “Marilyn will serve in a critical role at CMS as we work to improve the healthcare for hundreds of millions of Americans.”

In a press release posted to its website, The American Medical Association said, “The American Medical Association (AMA) is very pleased that the Senate has confirmed Marilyn Tavenner as administrator of CMS. As acting administrator, she has demonstrated her ability to be a capable and effective leader. We look forward to continuing to work with the administrator to strengthen the Meicare system to improve health outcomes for patients and the practice environment for physicians.”

The seven senators who voted against confirmation were all Republicans: Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

In explaining his opposition to Tavenner’s confirmation, McConnell told POLITICO’s Jennifer Haberkorn, “By giving the CMS administrator the primary role in implementing Obamacare [the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA]—with the responsibility for issuing and enforcing thousands of pages of new regulations, rules, and requirements—the Obama administration has changed the central focus of this job.”

In the end, most Senate Republicans did vote to confirm Tavenner, ending what has been a prolonged struggle over the nomination, which became enmeshed in a separate political fight over the ACA. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, told The New York Times'Robert Pear that, "So far, she has shown a willingness to work with members of both parties, which is a welcome development, particularly under this administration."

Tavenner, a former intensive care nurse and hospital system executive, became acting administrator in December 2011, following the resignation of Donald Berwick, M.D., who had been appointed by President Barack Obama as administrator via a recess appointment, in the face of Republican opposition to his appointment. Thus, Dr. Berwick never served as permanent administrator of the agency. Prior to joining CMS as principal deputy administrator, Tavenner had served as secretary of health and human resources in the cabinet of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine from 2006 to 2010. Her confirmation vote had been delayed for a period of numerous months, along with numerous other appointments that required Senate confirmation, because of partisan battles over the course of healthcare policy.

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