CMS' Berwick Resigns Post; Tavenner Waits in the Wings

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The Obama administration announced Wednesday the resignation of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Donald Berwick, MD. Berwick’s last day will be Friday, December 2, and his principal deputy administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, will serve as interim administrator until the Senate votes to make her appointment permanent.

Berwick’s resignation and replacement by Tavenner, a former secretary of health and human services in Virginia, comes as a result of Senate Republicans’ refusal to confirm his nomination. His last day on the job will be Friday, December 2.

Berwick has long been a controversial figure in Washington and beyond, sparking considerable anger among Republicans for his support of the health care reform law. A pediatrician and co-founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Berwick remains well-respected by his colleagues and other health care industry players. However, his staunch and freely expressed support of Great Britain's socialized medicine system quickly became a sore point with conservatives.

Some observers believe Berwick’s departure was inevitable, with his fate cemented after 42 Republican senators warned Obama in March that they would not confirm him and entreated the president to withdraw the nomination.
Tavenner has served as CMS’ principal deputy administrator since February 2010 and held the title of acting administrator from February to July 2010.

"Before entering government service, Ms. Tavenner spent nearly 35 years working with healthcare providers in significantly increasing levels of responsibility, including almost 20 years in nursing, three years as a hospital CEO, and 10 years in various senior executive level positions for Hospital Corporation of America (HCA),” the administration said in a statement announcing the nomination.

Meanwhile, in an email to his CMS colleagues, Berwick used the word “bittersweet” to characterize his decision to resign from his post. “Our work has been challenging, and the journey is not complete, but we are now well on our way to achieving a whole new level of security and quality for health care in America, helping not just the millions of Americans affected directly by our programs, but truly health care as a whole in our nation," he wrote.