White House selects new leader for CMS

June 1, 2007

Washington, D.C.-After months of speculation, the Bush administration named a veteran Health and Human Services (HHS) official to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the next two years.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-After months of speculation, the Bush administration named a veteran Health and Human Services (HHS) official to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the next two years.

Relatively unknown in health policy and benefits administration circles, the nominee, Kerry Weems, will have to demonstrate his ability to navigate the political minefields of health policy during the Senate confirmation process.

Weems, a 24-year civil servant at HHS, has been deputy chief of staff to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt for the last two years.

The nominee has not played a visible role in the debate over establishing the Medicare drug benefit or expansion of the Medicare Advantage program, as Norwalk did under Dr. McClellan.

Weems' financial and management background should be useful in dealing with the rising budget crunch facing Medicare, Medicaid and children's health programs. However, this background also raises concerns that his appointment to head CMS reflects greater administration interest in cutting costs than in improving access to care.

Weems' lack of experience in dealing the intricacies of Medicare and the still evolving Part D program, and the pressing need to address such hot topics as Medicare physician payment reform, payments to MA plans, coverage of new medical technology and reauthorization of SCHIP, will lead Weems to rely heavily on those CMS veterans who remain on the job.

ISSUES ON THE FRONT BURNER

"It's interesting to see that in touting Kerry Weems as the new CMS administrator, Secretary [Mike] Leavitt and others in the Administration are emphasizing his considerable budgetary and financial management skills, and the upcoming large fiscal challenges for Medicare and Medicaid are prominently mentioned," according to Clive Riddle, president and founder, MCOL, a managed care resource company in Modesto, Calif.

"There are a wide variety of initiatives, operational issues, and policy concerns that CMS must address, but reading between the lines, cost controls and fiscal constraints are going to be front and center," Riddle tells MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE.

In other HHS news, President Bush has nominated Tevi Troy as deputy secretary.

He has worked closely with the Department over the past few years, and has had key leadership and policy experience working in the House, the Senate, for an executive agency, and at the White House.

Troy has led the charge on several issues such as health IT, public health and childhood obesity and food and drug safety. Troy will succeed Alex Azar, who recently resigned.