(Story updated with comment at 3:45 p.m. ET.)
A roadblock to the Senate confirmation of acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner was removed Tuesday when the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee lifted the hold he placed on the former HCA executive's nomination in April.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Tuesday said he placed the hold on Tavenner's nomination before a congressional recess late last month
because Tavenner had signed a directive in March that channeled funds away from the health reform law's Prevention and Public Health Fund.
Harkin said he's still upset that the White House stripped about $332 million from the fund to educate the public about the health insurance exchanges set to launch next year and other elements the health reform law that still need to be implemented. But he added that has no objections to Tavenner leading the CMS.
“Regrettably, in recent days, the White House has made it clear that it will not reverse course with regard to its raid on the Prevention Fund,” Harkin said, according to prepared remarks. “I do not want to interfere with the important work of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I believe Ms. Tavenner is strongly qualified to be the next CMS Administrator and that it is urgent to have an effective leader at the helm of CMS as we enter a critical stage in implementing the Affordable Care Act.”
The Iowa Democrat strongly criticized the Obama administration for its decision to use the prevention fund for other purposes, saying the move is not only an example of “misplaced priorities,” but also “an outrageous attack on an investment fund that is saving lives by advancing wellness and prevention in communities all across America.” Harkin then listed several ways the prevention fund is investing in locally developed programs that he said will save lives and reduce costs.
For instance, he cited a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found programs like the National Diabetes Prevention Program could prevent or delay about 885,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, which Harkin said could save the nation's health system about $5.7 billion over 25 years.
When asked about his plans for a Senate vote on Tavenner's nomination, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'll proceed if he can “get the Republicans to back off.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he's not aware of any Republican-led opposition to Tavenner's nomination. “We actually think that she acquitted herself very well in front of the (Finance) committee,” Thune said Tuesday. “She has a number of Republicans who actually think that of the people the president could select she is a pretty good pick, based on her past experience. She probably won't get a lot of Republican votes but I'm quite confident she will get quite a few.”
-with Rich Daly
Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond