Time’s Up for Obama’s Controversial Medicare/Medicaid Director

November 28, 2011 - 7:48 AM
Donald Berwick

Donald Berwick, administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama's controversial, never-confirmed director of Medicare and Medicaid Services is being replaced. With only a few weeks to go until Dr. Donald Berwick's recess appointment runs out, Obama has nominated Marilyn Tavenner to replace Berwick.

The low-key announcement was made, not in person, but via a statement posted on the White House Web site the day before Thanksgiving.

Tavenner has served as deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) since February 2010. She formerly served as Secretary of Health and Human Resources in the administration of former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D). 

Before entering government service, Tavenner spent nearly 35 years working with healthcare providers "in significantly increasing levels of responsibility," the White House said.

She spent 20 years as a nurse, then three years as a hospital CEO and ten years in various executive positions for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).  She has served as a board member of the American Hospital Association and as president of the Virginia Hospital Association.  Ms. Tavenner holds a B.S. in nursing and an M.A. in health administration, both from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the Senate Financial Committee, said he looks forward to examining Tavenner's record and her views on Mediare, Medicaid, and Obamacare.

“I’m glad the White House opted against another end run around the Senate and instead has put forward a CMS nominee that the Senate must thoroughly examine," Hatch said in a news release.  "Any nominee to a federal agency with this much power and authority over the lives of millions of Americans must be carefully scrutinized."

Obama nominated Berwick, an advocate for Obama’s health care plan, to run CMS on Apr. 19, 2010. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) never called a confirmation hearing for Berwick. On July 7, while Congress was away on the July 4 vacation, Obama recess-appointed Berwick to the CMS position. That recess appointment expires at the end of 2011.

Among other concerns, Berwick has praised Britain's government-controlled health care system, comparing it favorably to what's available in the U.S.  In a July 2008 speech in England, Berwick said that "any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized, and humane must – must – redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional.”