March 3, 2013

Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, is a former Senate majority leader and a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper. Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, is a former Senate majority leader and a surgeon. They are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center health project.

Imagine a large company operating for seven years without a CEO. A company with a product that accounts for more than 15 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product. A company implementing the largest national effort at reform since its creation. A company set to gain an additional 30 million customers in the next year.

Unfathomable.

Yet that is exactly the situation at one of the largest federal “companies.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006.

Recently, President Obama sought to end this drought by renominating the acting administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, to the position of administrator. In the coming weeks, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle will question Tavenner’s views on such hot-button issues as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and entitlement reform.

As congressional leaders consider Tavenner’s record during her three years as acting administrator and principal deputy administrator of CMS, they should put partisan politics aside to fairly examine her experience and background, as well as the progress that has been made at CMS under her watch. If they are able to do so, they will see that Tavenner is an ideal candidate for the job.

Tavenner has demonstrated pragmatism and flexibility in guiding CMS through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Under her watch, the agency has broadly solicited and responded to stakeholder input, adapting policies and procedures when necessary to respond to concerns. There is no doubt that the time she spent as secretary of health and human resources in Virginia has made her particularly sensitive to state issues, as evidenced by the continued flexibility that CMS has shown in responding to governors’ concerns regarding the new health insurance marketplaces and Medicaid expansion.

But Tavenner’s experience is not solely administrative. She started her career as an intensive-care nurse and worked her way up to serve in hospital administration. Her practical clinical foundation and broad administrative experience enable her to take a multifaceted approach to policymaking, which is crucial to running a large, complex organization such as CMS.

Today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services publishes far more data and general information on its Web site than ever before. Tavenner has encouraged researchers and ordinary citizens to use publicly available data to perform analyses designed to improve health and health care. Under her guidance, Webinars and open forums regularly clarify policies and program requirements. Patients are even able to download their health information using CMS’s Blue Button functionality.

Immense change is taking place in the U.S. health-care system; openness and continuity are needed to ensure progress on the programs and initiatives that many across the country have worked so hard to develop and implement. It would be irresponsible to continue to allow CMS to operate without a confirmed administrator.

We are calling for a quick confirmation, and Marilyn Tavenner is just the person for the job.