- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2013

President Obama’s health care law remains divisive, but his pick to lead the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid, which cover more than 100 million Americans, won praise Tuesday from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Obama tapped Marilyn Tavenner to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where she has been acting administrator since 2011.

Lawmakers from both parties said she has built a solid working relationship.

“While we may not always share the same views, we have worked together to resolve challenges, and I’d like the chance to continue to do so,” she told members of the Senate Finance Committee during a confirmation hearing.

She was introduced to the committee by Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrats, and by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Ms. Tavenner started as a nurse, worked her way up to become CEO of a Richmond hospital and then served in Mr. Kaine’s Cabinet when he was governor of Virginia.

“I don’t think there’s any secret that I differ with the Obama administration on a lot of matters of health care policy,” said Mr. Cantor, citing the 2010 health care act in particular, “but if there is anyone that I trust to try and navigate the challenges, it is Marilyn Tavenner.”

Ms. Tavenner’s predecessor at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donald Berwick, was given a recess appointment by Mr. Obama and left after 18 months in December 2011 when it became clear that Senate Republicans would block his formal confirmation.

Ms. Tavenner made her pitch 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.

“There will be a lot of people watching you, myself included,” said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat.

Ms. Tavenner said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will step up efforts to make Americans aware of benefits contained in the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

She appeared to have surmounted an obstacle that arose this month after political intelligence firm Height Securities issued an alert about a looming decision by the Obama administration to avoid rate cuts in the Medicare Advantage program. The alert was issued before officials went public with the decision and sent shares of health insurance companies such as Humana soaring.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, had raised questions about the leak, saying it was “wrong and quite possibly illegal.”

Ms. Tavenner promised to investigate.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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