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Senate approves new Medicare/Medicaid chief

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The Senate on Wednesday approved President Obama's pick to lead the nation's Medicare agency, sending it a permanent leader for the first time in several years as the nation inches closer to sweeping health care reforms.
Marilyn B. Tavenner enjoyed bipartisan support at the committee level before the full chamber voted, 91-7, to confirm her as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Ms. Tavenner is taking the reins at a crucial time for the agency, which provides health coverage for 100 million Americans.

Numerous states are expanding their Medicaid enrollment under Mr. Obama's health care law, and members of Congress are considering broad reforms to how the Medicare system pays doctors.

Several GOP lawmakers and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have praised her success in the private sector in Virginia and service to the state government in Richmond before her arrival in Washington.

"While I still have many concerns about the policies of this administration and the direction CMS is heading, I plan to vote in favor of her confirmation because she has the ability and the potential to be a real leader," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, related a story about Ms. Tavenner's time as a nurse in the Old Dominion. Late one night, she and a team at her hospital revived a woman who had been all but pronounced dead after crashing through the windshield of her Volkswagen Bug.

"That's Marilyn Tavenner," he said on the Senate floor. "She doesn't give up. That's the kind of leader we need at CMS, believe me."

The American Hospital Association praised her confirmation, saying she has "worked to reduce red tape and regulatory burden to ensure that more providers’ time and resources are spent on caring for patients."

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, held up her nomination in recent weeks to protest the Obama administration's use of a preventative health fund to finance other initiatives.

Republican lawmakers also accused the Obama administration of using the Prevention and Public Health Fund as a "slush fund," but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has argued the funds were redirected in part because Congress underfunded efforts to implement the health care law.

Mr. Harkin lifted his hold on the nomination last week, clearing the way for a vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky and James Risch of Idaho voted against Ms. Tavenner's confirmation.

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