The former head of CMS will soon be insurers' top lobbyist

Tavenner will step into role on Aug. 24

Former CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in August will become president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry's trade group.

Tavenner—who became acting CMS administrator in 2011 and was confirmed as the agency's administrator in 2013—stepped down from her position in February. Tavenner was tasked with leading the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and helped oversee the rollout of the federal insurance exchange.

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New AHIP leader

The AHIP board on Wednesday unanimously elected Tavenner, who will succeed Karen Ignagni on Aug. 24. Ignagni announced that she was leaving AHIP two months ago.

Tavenner's election at AHIP comes amid major changes in the health insurance industry—such as potential mergers among the market's largest insurers—as well as within AHIP. UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest for-profit insurer, recently left the trade group, raising questions about divides within the organization.

Mark Ganz, chair of AHIP's board, says, "There is no better individual than Marilyn to lead our industry through the increasingly complex health care transformation that is underway."

Tavenner says, "This is a great opportunity," adding, "AHIP has a longstanding reputation as focused on consumers and consumer advocacy, and being a leader in the transformation of health care."

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Lobbying restrictions

In her new post, Tavenner will be lobbying on behalf of an industry that she previously helped regulate.

Tavenner notes that under federal conflict-of-interest rules, she will not lobby CMS or other parts of HHS while President Obama is still in office. However, she says she is free to lobby Congress.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says that while Tavenner cannot personally lobby the agency she oversaw, it likely will not pose much of a barrier because there are many others at AHIP who can.

Reaction

Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation says the move is a sign that insurers are committed to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "This choice, combined with the widespread participation by major insurers in the ACA's marketplaces, signals that the industry is all in with Obamacare," he says.

John Gorman, a former CMS official during the Clinton administration, says AHIP made a "very smart hire," noting that Tavenner is an "experienced insider" (Pear, New York Times, 7/15; Humer, Reuters, 7/15; Ferris, The Hill, 7/15; Palmer/Demko, Politico, 7/15; Herman, Modern Healthcare, 7/15).


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