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Cortese said to be candidate for CMS job

The Obama Administration has yet to announce an appointment for the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). We're not about to start any rumors, but the announcement must be near.  The eventual appointee will confront an unenviable number of difficult problems, including state Medicaid programs feeling squeezed by the financial crisis, a Medicare trust fund facing insolvency in a decade, and competing interests in any reform proposal the Obama team may propose.

The folks at the industry newsletter RPM Report think Mayo Clinic CEO Denis Cortese may be at the top of the list. Analyst Ramsey Baghdadi notes:

"Cortese would be an intriguing pick to lead the agency
and seemingly has every qualification to lead the growing Medicare
programs: He's an outsider, he holds a medical degree, he manages a
large health institution and he's helped to implement a number of the
most talked about health reforms at Mayo and made them work. Cortese
also chairs the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Evidence-based
Medicine."

A Mayo spokeswoman downplayed the idea,
telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the executive has not been offered
the job.

Cortese has been a vocal critic of Medicare, particularly its tendency to pay for volume and not value. From the Star Tribune:

"Cortese has barnstormed the country delivering fiery if slightly impenetrable speeches on the issue. In an interview last spring published in the Star Tribune editorial pages last spring (click here to read) he called for a moonshot-type push to overhaul the medical system to put the patient at the center. He stopped short of calling for a single-payer system, instead lauding "public-private" cooperation."

Also on RPM's shortlist are the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's CEO Donald Berwick, the Urban Institute's Bob Berenson – who worked on the transition team, former Avalere executive John Blum, several Harvard University professors and Obama campaign advisers, a former HHS leader and a Clinton health adviser.

Of course, whoever is chosen will want to be sure his or her taxes are in order. This morning's WSJ and NYT editorial pages are calling for HHS Secretary nominee Tom Daschle's withdrawal.

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One of the most important requirements for a CMS leader is understanding the profound damage caused by Medicare’s administered pricing schemes. Bruce Vladeck and Nancy Ann Deparle (who ran HCFA during the Clinton era) did not understand. Based on what I’ve heard about Denis Cortese, I think he gets it so he would probably be a good choice.
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