Kerry Weems, the Bush administrations nominee to head the office overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, likely will need little help grasping the complex operations of the twin entitlement programs after more than two decades within HHS.
Bushs nomination, announced May 3, caps Weems lengthy career within the department, which began with his 1983 hire as a junior budget analyst. The New Mexico native, a familiar face on Capitol Hill, oversaw management of HHS $700 billion budget for two years before being tapped in February 2005 for his current job as HHS Secretary Mike Leavitts deputy chief of staff.
If confirmed, Weems, 50, would replace CMS Acting Administrator Leslie Norwalk, who succeeded Mark McClellan after McClellans October 2006 departure.
Weems appointment would come amid an outcry from powerful hospital associations against recently released proposals that would overhaul Medicare inpatient payments by creating 745 new severity-adjusted billing codes to replace 538 existing ones. The American Hospital Association contends the proposal threatens to cut billions in hospital payments (April 23, p. 8).
Healthcare insiders praised Norwalks tenure as the CMS interim chief and said Weems background makes him a strong choice for the job. I think hes experienced and real bright, said Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, a Washington-based association of for-profit hospitals. Kahn said he would welcome a quick confirmation that would put a full-time chief at the top of the CMS, which he called critically important for the industry.
Hes way ahead on the learning curve coming from within the organization, said Bruce Yarwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association, a nursing home association based in Washington, who met with Weems and Leavitt in early April to discuss the sectors quality efforts and financing. During the 45-minute talk, Yarwood noted Weems curiosity and grasp of health policy. Weems questions focused on long-term cares quality initiatives and financing, Yarwood said.
In a written statement, Leavitt lauded the choice and praised Weems wealth of experience as an adviser to several HHS secretaries and as a manager of large budgets and organizations.