Former CMS head has new job: keeping Obamacare alive

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

As far as leaders of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services go, Andy Slavitt was neither the loudest nor the quietest. Most times, he was probably viewed as a fairly low-key player who learned to play both sides of the aisle as needed

But that was then and this is now. 

Curiously, over the last 3-4 weeks, Slavitt's name started to pop up in news stories like never before. Since December, he has tweeted well over 3,000 times, usually extolling the Affordable Care Act and often delivering zingers for Trump and his backers. 

The boldness of some of his tweets has been striking. They included warnings about the millions of people who could lose insurance and myriad economic damages that would come from a repeal of Obamacare.

More recently, Slavitt burst out of the back room to state his intention to keep the 44th president's signature health plan alive. Bold words from a man not particularly known for bold actions.

Of course, anyone can tilt at windmills, especially when they no longer have to protect their government job. There is certainly at least a little bit of that going on. Slavitt significantly doesn't have to worry about federal employee restrictions or other conventions of being a public servant that tethered him in the past.

Now he's casting himself as a defender of right (if not the political right) and making significant noise about it. A recent Politico interview found him calling out those who would repeal the ACA outright. In the article, he also pledged to keep up the fight to retain at least part of the historical health law alive. (One legislative proposal already includes the option for states to keep Obamacare if they wish.)

Slavitt sees himself as a potential broker between stalwart sides, though it's unclear how far that would fly with Republicans, who excoriated him last spring and summer after a GOP-led House committee accused him of lying about the fate of unused funds. Called Obama's mop-up man by some, Slavitt is looking to clean up in the future.

“They want bipartisanship. And they want clarity,” Slavitt told Politico. “I spent two years trying to create stability and predictability for the market -- and we did. But markets are only as good as people's belief in them.”

Slavitt came to Washington in 2013, to help save Obama's heavily criticized ACA enrollment website. Now, he says he won't return full-time to his roots in Minnesota, where he was a health entrepreneur. Rather, the former investment banker and United Healthcare exec says he'll stick around the Beltway a lot, with the hope of compelling changes that didn't come when his big boss was occupying the White House.

“Where I can have the most value is as a problem solver — that is, to view things through a pragmatic lens and connect with both sides of the aisle,” he said in the Politico interview.

By being one of the most visible lightning rods for Obamacare, he also could be positioning himself for a vaunted position at some undetermined time when Democrats actually control something again in Washington.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.