Tavenner to Replace Berwick as CMS Administrator

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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President Barack Obama’s administration nominated Marilyn Tavenner, a former nurse, hospital chief executive, and health administrator, to succeed Donald Berwick, MD, as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Dr. Berwick announced his resignation, which came after a political impasse in which Republicans blocked a Senate confirmation. His temporary appointment was set to expire at the end of this year. He will officially step down on December 2, at which point Tavenner will take over as interim administrator until the position is confirmed by a Senate vote.

According to a report from Kaiser Health News, Tavenner, who is the agency’s principal deputy administrator, will serve on an acting basis as administrator during the confirmation process. She has played a key role in overseeing Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

In an announcement to staff, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tavenner’s “distinguished career in health care and deep knowledge of our efforts to implement health reform make her the right person for this job at this moment in history.”

Berwick said Tavenner has been “a tremendous partner in our work together and is well prepared to take on this role in her own right at this important moment,” according to Kaiser Health News.

Prior to her time with CMS, Tavenner served as secretary of Virginia’s Health and Human Services where she oversaw 12 agencies that employed 18,000 people. She also spent 25 years working for the Hospital Corporation of America where she started as a staff nurse and became president of outpatient services. She has also previously served as acting CMS administrator.

American Hospital Association President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock said Tavenner’s “varied and rich background as a former nurse, health care executive, and government official at the state level gives her a very unique perspective in understanding both the implications of public policy and their implementation. We have no doubt that she will provide strong leadership in these challenging times.”

Although Tavenner’s nomination has been applauded by many, including Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), others fear that health IT efforts could be hindered in Dr. Berwick’s absence. In a commentary posted on FierceHealthIT’s Web site, Ken Perry wrote that his resignation should be “cause of concern in the health care industry, as well as the health IT sector.” Dr. Berwick’s departure “likely will slow the industry's inevitable transition to accountable care,” he noted.

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