Provider organizations hailed the choice of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt, 53, to succeed Tommy Thompson as HHS secretary. The American Hospital Associated cited Leavitt's success in winning a Medicaid waiver for Utah, and the American Medical Association called Leavitt "a true consensus builder and negotiator." In 2002, Leavitt, then governor of Utah, secured a waiver allowing the state to extend limited Medicaid coverage, excluding inpatient hospital care, to certain uninsured people and to establish a $100 copayment for inpatient admissions for some Medicaid beneficiaries -- both firsts for Medicaid programs.
Leavitt joined the Bush administration in 2003 after 11 years as Utah governor. When Thompson announced his resignation Dec. 3, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan and HHS Deputy Secretary Claude Allen were presumed to be the most likely candidates as his successor. In nominating Leavitt, President Bush called him "a fine executive" and "an ideal choice." During a news conference this morning, Leavitt said he looked forward "to the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006, medical liability reform and finding ways to reduce the cost of healthcare." -- by Tony Fong