Senate confirms Tavenner as CMS administrator

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CMS Administrator and Secretary of the Medicare Trustees Marilyn Tavenner
CMS Administrator and Secretary of the Medicare Trustees Marilyn Tavenner

Marilyn Tavenner has become the first confirmed head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in seven years. The Senate confirmed her as CMS administrator on Wednesday, in a 91-7 vote.

Advocates in the long-term care sector welcomed the news.

“With nearly 80% of individuals relying on Medicare or Medicaid for their skilled nursing care, having a steady, experienced leader such as Marilyn Tavenner will be beneficial for patients and providers alike," said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association.   

Tavenner has served as CMS Acting Administrator since 2011. She has managed to avoid the partisan opposition faced by her predecessor, Donald Berwick, M.D. She was praised by senators on both sides of the aisle during her confirmation hearing before the Finance Committee last month, and seemed to be on a smooth path to confirmation until Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) placed a hold on her nomination.

Harkin was protesting the Obama administration's plans to reallocate a $15 billion fund for prevention programs to finance other parts of the ACA. He withdrew his hold on May 7.

Tavenner's confirmation may be a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in Congress, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) punctured any potential mood of accord in remarks before the Senate voted on Wednesday. He drew a sharp distinction between Tavenner and her boss, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Hatch said it is important that CMS is led by someone with “strong ethics” at a time when the HHS chief is engaging in practices that are “less than transparent and may not be legal.” Hatch was alluding to allegations that Sebelius has improperly urged healthcare organizations to contribute to Enroll America, a pro-ACA group.