Medicare Chief Is Silent on Leaving

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 4, 2006

Mark B. McClellan declined yesterday to address a report that he plans to announce his resignation as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services as early as this week.

"I'll be happy to talk to you when I have something to say," McClellan said at his Northwest Washington home. The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that McClellan, 43, will soon step down as the overseer of two of the nation's largest public health insurance programs.

McClellan, 43, a Texan, plans to return to academia or the private sector after having served in three key health policy posts since President Bush took office in 2001, the newspaper reported.

White House spokesman David Almacy also said he could not confirm the report.

"We haven't made any formal announcements about any personnel changes," Almacy said. "If he's going to make an announcement, I guess we're going to have to wait and see."

A physician and health economist, McClellan served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 2002 to 2004. Before that, he was a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and a senior health policy aide to Bush. McClellan succeeded Thomas A. Scully as CMS chief in March 2004.

At the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, McClellan has overseen two federal programs that together provide more than $535 billion a year in benefits. Medicare provides health insurance for more than 42 million elderly and disabled people, and Medicaid pays for health and long-term care for more than 44 million Americans.

His tenure included overseeing the complex implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, which for the first time this year will help more than 33 million seniors pay for their prescription drug medications. The benefit, passed by Congress after contentious debate in 2003, is expected to cost the government $720 billion in the first 10 years.

Seniors began enrolling for the benefit this year, and the signup period was marked with complaints from some about the difficulty of selecting the most appropriate coverage from the variety of plans offered by private insurers. Despite that rough introduction, though, recent polls have found most beneficiaries are satisfied with their choice.

John C. Rother, policy director for the AARP, the nation's largest organization for seniors, said he did not know McClellan's plans, but "a lot of people who know him thought that this would be a good year for him to move on."

Rother added: "His major responsibility has been to implement the Medicare Modernization Act and the drug benefit, which I think he has done extremely well. Obviously, he has a very bright future, and I'm sure he's got other options that are very attractive."

McClellan has generally been viewed as a skilled implementer of policy rather than as a partisan ideologue. He worked on health policy issues in President Bill Clinton's Treasury Department and has developed solid working relationships with lawmakers of both parties in Congress.

McClellan became FDA commissioner in 2002, after the position had been vacant for nearly two years. The agency has lacked a consistent, Senate-confirmed leader since his departure in 2004.

McClellan is the older brother of Scott McClellan, who stepped down as White House press secretary in May. Their mother is Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is running for governor as an independent.

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