McClellan Resignation Leaves Vacancy in Administration
The resignation of CMS Administrator Mark McClellan "creates a critical vacancy as the Bush administration enters its final two years, a time when skilled political appointees typically think of leaving the government rather than joining it," the Washington Post reports.
McClellan announced on Tuesday that he will leave the agency in about five weeks (Lee, Washington Post, 9/6). McClellan, a medical doctor and economist, said he wants to spend more time with his family and probably will join a think tank or take a position in academia (Rockoff, Baltimore Sun, 9/6).
A replacement for McClellan has not been named, but potential nominees include CMS Deputy Administrator Leslie Norwalk; Herb Kuhn, director of the Center for Medicare Management at CMS; and Julie Goon, a special assistant to President Bush and former director of Medicare outreach at HHS, the Post reports (Washington Post, 9/6).
According to the Sun, McClellan's successor "will face an unwieldy, highly political job" that includes oversight of Medicaid and Medicare -- which together provide health benefits for about 90 million U.S. residents -- and management of a $600 billion federal budget (Baltimore Sun, 9/6). In addition, the Post reports, "if the Democrats regain control of the House in the November elections, the next administrator can expect to be grilled repeatedly at congressional hearings designed to spotlight Bush policies that Democrats oppose" (Washington Post, 9/6).
McClellan's successor faces two "huge" political challenges: "how to reverse increases in the number of people without health insurance and how to pay for Medicare and Medicaid, whose costs are expected to soar as millions of baby boomers age," the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 9/6). Another "immediate task" facing the next administrator will be addressing issues with the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Sun reports.
The next administrator also will have to address a scheduled cut in Medicare reimbursements to physicians, which is opposed by some members of Congress (Baltimore Sun, 9/6). Later this year, a special Medicaid commission is scheduled to issue a report that is expected to recommend large "big cost cuts in the program," while Congress next year will debate whether to reauthorize SCHIP, according to the Post (Washington Post, 9/6).
Bush in a statement said, "Mark has been a trusted adviser, and he leaves behind a strong record of accomplishment" (Baltimore Sun, 9/6). Bush added, "He played an instrumental role in transforming the nation's health care system, and his efforts will continue to make a difference for generations" (Freking, AP/Miami Herald, 9/6).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "It takes a skilled administrator to juggle the agency's competing interests of offering the highest possible service to beneficiaries while keeping down costs to preserve the programs for future beneficiaries" (Washington Post, 9/6). Grassley added, "I hope his departure doesn't cause delays in getting Part D snags fixed for beneficiaries, and that he'll correct all known problems before he leaves" (Baltimore Sun, 9/6).
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), said McClellan was "smart to step down before at least seven million Medicare beneficiaries hit the prescription drug program's 'doughnut hole.'" Stark added, "Had he waited much longer, he would have found few employers willing to hire an ex-Bush administration official" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 9/5).