Embattled Obama Medicare Chief Steps Aside

The embattled acting director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donald Berwick, will step down from his post on Dec. 2 after Republicans succeeded in blocking his confirmation in the Senate, the White House said today.  

President Obama nominated a new appointee, deputy CMS director and former Virginia Health Department chief Marilyn Tavenner, to take Berwick’s place. She’ll assume the role if confirmed by the Senate.

“Don Berwick did outstanding work at CMS.  It’s unfortunate that a small group of Senators obstructed his nomination, putting political interests above the best interests of the American people,” said agency spokesman Jamie Smith in an email. “Marilyn Tavenner is an experienced leader who will build on this incredible record of accomplishment and make Medicare and Medicaid even stronger, and we hope that the Senate will act quickly to confirm her.”

The Berwick position has become a lightning rod for the partisan debate over the new health care law since whoever heads the agency will play a key role in overseeing implementation of some of the law’s provisions.

Many Republicans opposed Berwick, 65, because of his expressed support for government-run health care programs. They also accused him of supporting “rationing” of health care services, a charge Berwick has denied.

 ”Our work has been challenging, and the journey is not complete, but we are now well on our way to achieving a whole new level of security and quality for health care in America, helping not just the millions of Americans affected directly by our programs, but truly health care as a whole in our nation,” Berwick wrote in an email to staff obtained by the Associated Press.

The White House offered the following background on Tavenner:

“Marilyn Tavenner has served as Principal Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) since February 2010 and as Acting Administrator of CMS from February to July 2010.  Previously, Ms. Tavenner served as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources in the administration of former Governor Tim Kaine.  Before entering government service, Ms. Tavenner spent nearly 35 years working with healthcare providers in significantly increasing levels of responsibility, including almost 20 years in nursing,  3 years as a hospital CEO and 10 years in various senior executive level positions for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).  She has served as a board member of the American Hospital Association and as president of the Virginia Hospital Association.  Ms. Tavenner holds a B.S. in nursing and an M.A. in health administration, both from the Virginia Commonwealth University.”

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