Obama nominates Slavitt to officially lead CMS—but confirmation questions loom

Hospital groups praise the move

President Obama on Thursday nominated acting CMS administrator Andy Slavitt to head the agency, but his nomination could face pushback from Republicans over his previous position at UnitedHealth and GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Slavitt has been acting administrator of CMS since March—after Marilyn Tavenner stepped down at the end of February—and joined the agency in 2014 to help oversee the federal insurance exchange. Before that, Slavitt was an executive at Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, where he was among those contracted to fix HealthCare.gov after its launch. Slavitt previously signed an ethics waiver from HHS to recuse himself from certain matters related to UnitedHealth.

From last year: Obama administrations announces Slavitt hire

GOP reaction

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) raised concern about Slavitt's previous work for UnitedHealth. "Slavitt's conflicted history in the medical services industry has produced mixed results and raised a number of serious concerns," Hatch said. "Slavitt will need to answer a number of tough questions regarding his former employer and their relationship with the agency."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) signaled that Republicans likely will focus on their opposition to the ACA during the confirmation hearing, which could lead to "partisan fireworks," Peter Sullivan writes for The Hill.

"While Andy Slavitt's nomination will receive thorough consideration in the Senate, it has long been clear that no one can successfully manage a law as unworkable as Obamacare," McConnell said, adding, "The sole focus of CMS should be to look out for our nation's seniors and the many vulnerable Americans who use these programs, without the distraction of Obamacare."

How the GOP plans to attack the ACA after King v. Burwell

Hospital groups praise nomination

Meanwhile, American Hospital Association CEO Rich Umbdenstock urged the Senate to confirm Slavitt, who he says "has a deep understanding of the U.S. healthcare system and a commitment to improving patient care."

Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn called on the Senate to "act swiftly to confirm Mr. Slavitt as the next CMS administrator so that America's critical healthcare programs will have the true benefit of a strong and experienced leader" (Aguilar, Modern Healthcare, 7/9; Cooney, Reuters, 7/9; Sullivan, The Hill, 7/9; Tracer, Bloomberg, 7/9).

Next in the Daily Briefing

Annual list names nation's 'Most Wired' hospitals

Read now