Senate approves Obama choice to head Medicare

May 15, 2013|By Noam N. Levey
  • Marilyn Tavenner at a Washington news conference.
Marilyn Tavenner at a Washington news conference. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated…)

WASHINGTON – In an unusual break in the partisan warring over healthcare, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Obama's choice to oversee the mammoth Medicare and Medicaid health programs.

Marilyn Tavenner, a former hospital executive and Virginia health secretary, became the first head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to win Senate confirmation since 2006. The vote was 91 to 7.

Tavenner was nominated for the post in 2011 and has been acting head of the agency, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. But with Democrats and Republicans still at loggerheads over Obama’s healthcare law, it was unclear whether she would ever get a confirmation vote.

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Tavenner oversees government health insurance programs that cover more than 100 million Americans every year. She also is a key player in the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Obama’s first choice to head the powerful health agency, Dr. Donald Berwick, a widely respected pediatrician and leading advocate for patient safety, was blocked by Republican lawmakers opposed to the law. Because he was never confirmed, Berwick had to step down after a year and a half.

Tavenner has been a less controversial choice and won the backing of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in whose district Tavenner used to work.

But her confirmation path was still rocky. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, briefly held up the nomination to express anger at the Obama administration’s use of money earmarked for disease prevention to help implement the health law.

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