Tavenner to Step Down as Head of CMS

By: Fred Segal

Marilyn Tavenner, the much embattled Administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced last Friday that she will be stepping down at the end of the month. Tavenner was integral in the implementation of Healthcare.gov, the government’s healthcare insurance exchange website.  Launched in October 2013, Heathcare.gov suffered numerous technical issues and crashed for a significant period of time.  As a result, Tavenner received substantial criticism from media pundits and politicians. Among the aforementioned critics was Republican Senator Darrell Issa, who, in reaction to Tavenner’s departure stated that Tavenner “presided over HHS as it deceptively padded the Obamacare enrollment numbers. It was a deplorable example of an agency trying to scam the American people. They weren’t successful this time because of Congressional oversight. We deserve better.”

While some were quick to criticize Tavenner, others believe she did a commendable job.  College of Healthcare Information Management Executives President CEO Russell Branzell said that Tavenner “provided a steady hand during turbulent times in Washington.” Indranil Ganguly, vice president and CIO at Edison, New Jersey-based JFK Health System, told FierceHealthIT via email that he was a little surprised by the announcement. ‘She has served during a time of change, and has helped set the tone for health reform as well as support the drive to better use of technology.’”  Further, Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and a former senior health policy adviser to the White House and HHS in the Clinton administration said, “Tavenner hasn’t received public recognition for ‘under-the-radar initiatives that have gone more smoothly.’”

According to reports, “Andy Slavitt, a former technology executive who played a leading role in the rescue operation to get HealthCare.gov working last year, will take over as acting Medicare administrator.” Slavitt also previously headed certain units of United Healthcare. Slavitt’s background is in health IT. In 1999, He founded “Health Allies” in 1999, a company that helped consumers consolidate bills from healthcare providers, and provided consumers with, among other things, healthcare pricing information. Slavitt is also the  former group executive vice president of United Health Group’s Optum unit.

Will Slavitt stay on permanently? Only time will tell. As of right now there is an opening for the position; a job that is not for the faint of heart. As Sam Baker of the National Journal puts it in an interesting article about what lies ahead for the next permanent head of CMS, it is a “thankless job.”

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