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Obama Taps Tavenner to Head CMS

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President Obama has picked Marilyn Tavenner, a nurse who got her start in hospital administration, to be the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Obama has been trying for more than a year to get the Senate to confirm Dr. Donald Berwick, the CMS administrator and a professor of pediatrics and health care policy at the Harvard Medical School.

Berwick has been serving as the CMS administrator under a recess appointment that is set to expire at the end of the year.

Senate Republicans have blocked the Berwick nomination, noting that, in the past, Berwick has praised the United Kingdom’s single-payer health finance system. In March, the Obama administration said it would stick with Berwick, but Berwick submitted his resignation last week.

CMS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, runs Medicare and Medicaid and also oversees HHS efforts to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA).

Tavenner has been the principal deputy administrator at CMS since February 2010. She was the acting CMS administrator from February 2010 to July 2010.

Before that, Tavenner was the Virginia secretary of health and human resources.

Tavenner ran hospitals in Virginia for Hospital Corporation of America, Nashville, Tenn. (NYSE:HCA), and then was the group president of outpatient services for HCA. She has been president of the Virginia Hospital Association, Glen Allen, Va.

Tavenner has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in health administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. She holds the fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives professional designation.

The authors of Parish Nursing, a book published in 2002, talk about Tavenner, who was then an executive at HCA, providing a $55,000 grant to help fund a parish-based, nurse-run wellness program in the Richmond, Va., area. In 2009, she served on the board of the St. Andrew’s School, a Presbyterian school in Richmond.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a harsh critic of Berwick and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, says in a statement that he is “glad the White House opted against another end run around the Senate.”

The Senate must examine Tavenner thoroughly, Hatch says.

“Any nominee to a federal agency with this much power and authority over the lives of millions of Americans must be carefully scrutinized,” Hatch says. “Republicans on the Finance Committee look forward to examining her record and gaining an understanding of her views of Medicare, Medicaid and the president’s health law.”