Medicare chief steps down, ran health care rollout

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Medicare’s top administrator unexpectedly resigned Friday, becoming the latest casualty of the troubled rollout of the president’s health care law.

A former intensive care nurse with a businesslike approach to one of the most divisive areas of public policy, Marilyn Tavenner told staff in an email that she’s stepping down at the end of February with “sadness and mixed emotions.”

Tavenner survived the technology meltdown that initially paralyzed but was embarrassed last fall when she testified to Congress that 7.3 million people were enrolled for coverage. The number turned out to be an overcount that exaggerated the total by about 400,000 people.

She played a key role in the 2013 decision to go live with, signing a cybersecurity clearance required by government rules after technology professionals under her balked because testing was incomplete. The website later passed security tests and received full authority to operate.

Despite her close association with “Obamacare,” senior Republicans in Congress said they were sorry to see Tavenner go.

“She has proven herself to be a strong leader and a straight shooter who brought in much-needed private sector sensibility into the agency,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. “I truly appreciate her service and wish her the very best in her next adventure.”

Calling Tavenner “one of our most esteemed and accomplished colleagues,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said the decision to leave was Tavenner’s.

Tavenner joined the Health and Human Services department shortly before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. She came from state government, having served as Virginia’s health secretary under former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

Although she started out in nursing, most of her career was spent in hospital administration. She rose through the ranks to become a top executive of Hospital Corporation of America.

Andy Slavitt, a former technology executive who played a leading role in the rescue operation to get working, will take over as acting Medicare administrator.

Slavitt has been serving as Tavenner’s principal deputy, responsible not only for but for key Medicare and Medicaid issues as well. A permanent replacement requires Senate confirmation. Any presidential nominee could face rough going in the Republican-led Senate.

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