Centers of Medicare and Medicaid May Soon Receive Permanent Administrator

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President Obama has announced his intention to appoint nominees to fill critical administrative posts that have been left vacant, including the Administrator for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). This position is one of the most critical to implementing the President’s health care reform that became law this past week.

A senior administration official has told CNN that the expected nominee is Massachusetts pediatrician and Harvard University professor of clinical pediatrics and healthcare policy Donald Berwick. Dr. Berwick is also the president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

CMS has been without a permanent administrator since Mark McClellan resigned in 2006. Acting administrator is Charlene M. Frizzera, also chief operating officer.

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The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid is under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Administrator oversees the establishment of program goals and objectives and the development of policies, standards, and guidelines.

The Administrator of CMS also directs the planning, coordination and implementation of the programs under Titles XI, XVII, and XIX of the Social Security Act and related statutes. He or she directs the development of the effective relationships between these programs and private and federally supported health-related programs.

If Dr. Berwick is nominated and confirmed by the Senate, he will face an enormous task in the new job. The agency must prepare for a massive expansion of the Medicaid federal-state insurance program starting in 2014. The Medicaid program is expected to add about 16 million Americans by the end of the decade. At the same time, states are cutting funding for the program because of budget restraints, and many doctors have stopped taking Medicaid patients because it reimburses them at a lower rate than private insurance.

For the Medicare insurance program for the elderly, the top challenge will be phasing in more than $400 billion in cuts over the next decade to health-care providers who participate in insurance program for the elderly without weakening it.

Medicare and Medicaid combined currently serve nearly one-third of all Americans.

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