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Senate committee green-lights Medicare nominee Marilyn Tavenner at crucial time

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The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved President Obama’s pick to lead a federal agency that insures millions of Americans through Medicare and Medicaid, offering unusually bipartisan support for the nominee despite intense debate over health care reform and entitlement spending in Washington.

Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), must be confirmed by the full Senate before she takes the helm as the agency’s first permanent leader in several years.

But her confirmation is all but assured. She enjoyed vocal praise from the finance panel during a confirmation hearing this month, including a cameo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who touted her work in Old Dominion’s private sector and state government.

On Tuesday, the committee approved Ms. Tavenner by a simple voice vote.

Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said Ms. Tavenner is “one of the best,” while Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, deemed her an “excellent choice” to lead the agency that makes sure 100 million older and poor Americans have health coverage.

“It’s the nation’s largest insurer,” Mr. Hatch said. “We need a permanent person there.”

If confirmed, Ms. Tavenner will serve at a crucial time for the agency. Mr. Obama’s health care law will establish insurance marketplaces in all 50 states and expand the Medicaid programs of states that opt in, and the ballooning costs of health care entitlement programs are pivotal in debt-reduction talks.

Members of Congress also are trying to rewrite the way doctors are paid under Medicare. Under current law, doctors’ payments are scheduled to be cut by more than 25 percent in order to contain costs, but lawmakers regularly have passed one-year patches to maintain full funding.

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