New CMS chief, same policies?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

BALTIMORE - Marilyn Tavenner took over the reins at CMS last week, but expect things to be business as usual, say industry stakeholders.

"I wouldn't expect any meaningful change because the policies that are in place will continue to be driven by the Obama White House," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "We expect her to be a fair player to deal with, but I wouldn't put hopes on any dramatic changes."

President Obama last week nominated Marilyn Tavenner, CMS's principal deputy administrator and COO, to the top post. She replaces Donald Berwick, who stepped down today, just weeks before his temporary appointment was set to expire. Berwick never received a confirmation hearing and had long been opposed by Republican lawmakers.

Tavenner rose through the healthcare ranks from nurse to hospital CEO before being named Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Services. She has been described as patient oriented and a hands-on manager. She started at CMS in 2010.

"She has a good blend of experience at the patient's bedside, at disease management, at hospital administration and at state administration," said Wayne Sale, chairman of NAIMES. "If she's allowed to do her job outside of the political arena, she will do her best to work for the greater good."

Tavenner's nomination has the support of several influential healthcare associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, and her supporters include high-ranking Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Of course, the top issue for the HME industry continues to be Medicare's competitive bidding program, something Berwick supported. Just because he's gone, don't expect the program to go away, stakeholders say.

"I think competitive bidding is a priority of the administration," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "While individual members of the agency may have opinions about the program, ultimately, this is the law on the books. I don't see anything really changing."

Indeed, while Tavenner is aware of what's going on with competitive bidding, it's not a priority for her, said Sale, who has exchanged emails with Tavenner about the program.

"She has bigger fish to fry," he said. "She has confidence that Jonathan Blum (deputy administrator and director, Center for Medicare) is handling the competitive bidding program. I have confidence that he will keep going in the direction that he is going, to our dismay."

A date has not yet been set for a confirmation hearing.



Meet the new CMS. Same as the old CMS.