Tavenner confirmed as head of CMS

The Senate yesterday confirmed Marilyn Tavenner as the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She becomes the first confirmed leader of the agency in more than nine years, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Tavenner, a former nurse and hospital company executive, has served as acting CMS administrator since late 2010. Her confirmation showed a rare show of bipartisanship on a healthcare issue, Reuters reported.

Tavenner also had the backing of several medical groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPH) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

"As acting administrator, she has demonstrated her ability to be a capable and effective leader. We look forward to continuing to work with the administrator to strengthen the Medicare system to improve health outcomes for patients and the practice environment for physicians," AMA President Jeremy Lazarus, M.D., said yesterday in a statement.

Noting Tavenner's extensive healthcare career, Bruce Siegel, M.D., president and CEO of NAPH called the new CMS head a "valuable asset" to implementing health reform provisions.

Tom Leary, vice president of government relations at HIMSS, said the health IT organization "applauds" Tavenner's confirmation.

"I stand by our letter to the Committee that we submitted when she was nominated in February," Leary said, according to Healthcare IT News. In that letter, HIMSS called Tavenner's "understanding and leadership in advancing health information technology," key to its members. Specifically, it cited Tavenner's leadership key to the progress of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program.

Even with provider support, Tavenner's road to confirmation wasn't an easy one as it faced a temporary block from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) over issues with cuts to the healthcare law's Public Health and Prevention Fund.

But after removing his hold and allowing the full Senate vote to proceed, the Senate approved President Obama's more apolitical nomination by a vote of 91-7.

The Senate did not support Tavenner's predecessor, Don Berwick, who was known for controversial statements likened to rationing healthcare and socialism and resigned in 2011 amid an absence of Republican support, as FierceHealthcare previously reported.

For more:
- read the HHS announcement
- read the Reuters article
- here's the AMA statement
- check out the NAPH statement (.pdf)
- here's the Healthcare IT News article