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Marilyn Tavenner, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator

Senate confirms Tavenner as CMS administrator

By Rich Daly
Posted: May 15, 2013 - 7:15 pm ET

Marilyn Tavenner was easily confirmed Wednesday as the first permanent CMS administrator since 2006.

The 91-7 vote followed glowing bipartisan praise for Tavenner, who has served as acting administrator since late 2011, when Dr. Donald Berwick stepped down. Since then, Tavenner has come to be seen as an apolitical and effective administrator of one of the federal government's largest agencies, even as it implements the still-controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“We need a confirmed administrator with all of the work that she has to do, especially implementing the Affordable Care Act,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a floor speech shortly before her approval.

Baucus highlighted the work that remains in implementing the major provisions of the complex law, including the Oct. 1 start of enrollment in health insurance exchanges in all 50 states and expanded Medicaid enrollment in about half of them. He and other senators agreed that those tasks are much more easily handled by a confirmed administrator.

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Tavenner, former Virginia secretary of health and human services, also drew praise from her former boss, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who hired her when he was governor of Virginia.

“Marilyn's experience, her focus on patients from her background as a nurse, her spectacular success at smart cost cutting, but especially her proven capacity to be creative and innovative reaching results merit our support for her,” Kaine said in a floor speech.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who has known Tavenner for 25 years, highlighted her previous position as a hospital executive at HCA and the private sector experience it gave her.

“She understands the impacts that rules and regulations have in the real world,” Warner said. Republicans warned that they will closely watch Tavenner's actions in implementing the 2010 healthcare overhaul that continues to draw strong opposition from many in that party.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Finance Committee, voted to support Tavenner while voicing his hope that she would support “structural reforms” to Medicare that would help extend the solvency of the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund past 2024.

“If she is to be successful, she'll have to realize that she can't do it alone,” he said. “She will have to work with members of Congress from both parties.”

The vote also elicited cheers from provider advocates, who have consistently pushed her nomination forward.

“As acting administrator, Marilyn has demonstrated her willingness to listen to, learn from and work in partnership with the nation's healthcare providers,” Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said in a written statement. “She has worked to reduce red tape and regulatory burden to ensure that more providers' time and resources are spent on caring for patients.”

“The Senate's strong, bipartisan vote for Ms. Tavenner is a testament to her outstanding leadership and management skills and her exemplary performance running the agency as acting administrator,” Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, said in a written statement.

“AHCA is pleased to see the Senate confirm the first CMS administrator in nearly seven years,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, said in a written statement. “With nearly 80% of individuals relying on Medicare or Medicaid for their skilled nursing care, having a steady, experienced leader such as Marilyn Tavenner will be beneficial for patients and providers alike.”

Tavenner's confirmation followed a relatively smooth road from her Feb. 7, 2013 nomination by President Barack Obama. The Senate Finance Committee, which has featured sharp partisan healthcare battles for years, advanced her nomination with an April 23 voice vote.

The only bump to her confirmation came from a temporary hold placed on her by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) over his concerns that the fiscal 2014 Obama budget proposed additional cuts to a prevention fund he advocated. Harkin released his hold on May 7.

“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,” he said.

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter: @MHrdaly

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