My sources in the Bush Administration tell me that the President will nominate Kerry Weems as the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Mr. Weems, a savvy finance expert with a long career at HHS, is well-liked by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, former Secretary Tommy Thompson, and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He served as HHS’ budget director and is now deputy chief of staff.
Nomination of Mr. Weems will be a departure from tradition. Historically, CMS administrators have been either academics or lobbyists. The academics often lack leadership and executive skills and the lobbyists often come across as too Machiavellian. Since the agency’s creation in 1978, CMS (formerly called HCFA) has had about 30 administrators or acting administrators – about one per year. As a respected career insider, Mr. Weems is well positioned to deal with CMS’ powerful, technocratic, hardworking but often demoralized bureaucracy.
Leslie Norwalk, CMS acting administrator, is expected to resign sometime in April. Ms. Norwalk, a health industry lawyer, was counselor to the CMS administrator (Tom Scully) from 2001-2004 and became deputy administrator in 2004.
Herb Kuhn will likely take over as acting administrator while Kerry Weems goes through the grueling Senate confirmation process. Mr. Kuhn, a highly respected hospital industry guru, has been director of CMS’ Center for Medicare Management (CMM), which oversees Medicare Part A and Part B policy and Medicare’s vast fee-for-service operations. Mr. Kuhn, has been serving as acting deputy administrator. He’s a talented, well-liked fellow, and an excellent prospect for deputy administrator.
As CMS goes through the musical chairs, speculation is growing that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt plans to leave and rejoin the private sector this spring.