CMS Administrator Tavenner Stepping Down

The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will leave her post at the end of February, just days before the law she helped implement faces its biggest legal test to date.

Just days before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that could wreak havoc with the Affordable Care Act, the official who oversaw much of its rocky rollout will step down.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Friday she will leave her post at the end of February. She joined CMS in 2010, the same year the Affordable Care Act was enacted. She has been CMS administrator since the spring of 2013.

Tavenner’s tenure was inextricably tied to the implementation of the ACA. Her agency wrote many of the regulations governing the law, and she oversaw the problematic 2013 launch of HealthCare.gov, the website created to help Americans shop for and enroll in health insurance. A wave of website problems rendered the site virtually useless for weeks, causing a major embarrassment for the Obama administration.

She also came under fire earlier this year when her agency admitted that healthcare enrollment numbers they had reported were inaccurate. The figures had included about 400,000 enrollees who simply signed up for dental coverage, rather than full health insurance plans.

In an email to staff obtained by The Washington Post, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell credited Tavenner with fixing the HealthCare.gov problems, saying Tavenner “will be remembered for her leadership.”

The change in leadership at CMS comes as a key provision of the ACA is about to be decided by the Supreme Court. The high court is slated to hear arguments in King vs. Burwell on March 4. That case centers on whether the law allows people to get federal health insurance subsidies if they purchased healthcare on a state exchange if they live in states with federally administered exchanges. If the Obama Administration loses the case, millions of Americans could potentially be priced out of the insurance market.

Burwell said CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt will succeed Tavenner on an interim basis. She did not give a timeline for appointing Tavenner’s replacement.