President Barack Obama has nominated Andrew Slavitt as CMS administrator, the position he has held on an interim basis since Marilyn Tavenner stepped down in February.
As administrator, Slavitt oversees day-to-day decisions regarding implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, payment and delivery reform, healthcare fraud and improving health outcomes.
Slavitt was appointed by HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell as part of an attempt to create clearer lines of authority at the CMS.
Some observers said a lack of clear leadership contributed to the botched launch of the federal exchange and recommended creating a dedicated executive position for an exchange CEO.
Cheers, jeers and advice rolled in shortly after the news of the nomination broke on Twitter Thursday afternoon. Republicans signaled he won't have a smooth ride to Senate confirmation.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement saying that Slavitt's nomination would receive "thorough consideration." He advised Slavitt to remain focused on serving the 140 million Americans estimated by the CMS to receive insurance under its programs.
“The head of the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid should be focused on what the American people expect him to do: administer these important programs, not allow his attention to be diverted instead to the implementation of some gigantic, unworkable healthcare law that hurts hardworking Americans,” McConnell said, “It has long been clear that no one can successfully manage a law as unworkable as Obamacare.”
Slavitt previously worked as group executive vice president of Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group. He was one of the executives helping with the so-called tech surge to fix HealthCare.gov in the months after it launched. He also served as CEO at UnitedHealth's Ingenix unit. It's that history that concerns Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who issued a statement within minutes of the announcement.
“Mr. Slavitt's conflicted history in the medical services industry has produced mixed results and raised a number of serious concerns. As such, he will be expected to demonstrate that he is up to the challenge and capable of successfully leading the agency through the monumental tasks that lie ahead,“ Hatch said. “Most importantly, Mr. Slavitt will need to answer a number of tough questions regarding his former employer and their relationship with the agency.”
HHS has previously issued an ethics waiver for Slavitt, who will have to recuse himself from matters involving UnitedHealth, including contracts and analytics work from the Lewin Group, a UnitedHealth unit. UnitedHealth is the largest carrier of Medicare Advantage plans.
Providers, on the other hand, commended the nomination.
Among them was American Hospital Association CEO Rich Umbdenstock, who said Slavitt “has a deep understanding of the U.S. healthcare system and a commitment to improving patient care.”
“We believe Andy's proven leadership in the public and private sectors speaks to the ongoing contributions he will make at CMS,” Umbendstock added.
Chip Kahn, CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, urged the Senate to “act swiftly to confirm Mr. Slavitt as the next CMS administrator so that America's critical healthcare programs will have the true benefit of a strong and experienced leader."