Marilyn Tavenner, who helped lead the problematic rollout of the HealthCare.gov website in 2013, will step down as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the end of February.
In a resignation letter delivered Friday to her staff at CMS, Tavenner highlighted the department’s accomplishments under her five-year leadership and praised colleagues for their dedication.
“All of you are the most committed, hardworking, inspirational individuals and civil servants that I have ever had the honor of working alongside,” Tavenner wrote. “I feel fortunate to leave here with a great sense of accomplishment, a wealth of knowledge, many new friends and the comfort of knowing that the citizens of this country and I are in great hands with all of you and your incredible drive and commitment to continue transforming our healthcare system.”
Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator at CMS, will replace Tavenner as the agency’s acting administrator. Slavitt currently oversees HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance marketplace that serves 37 states.
Tavenner’s experience as a nurse, health care executive and government official gave her a “practical perspective” to running a very complex government agency, said Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association.
“Her ability to work in a bipartisan manner with legislators and listen carefully to the concerns of hospitals and other stakeholders was key to her effectiveness as a leader, Umbdenstock said in a statement. “Combine them all together with her honesty, integrity and determination and you have a role model for public service.
Along with former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Tavenner became the public face of the Obama Administration’s botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website.
In numerous appearances before Congress in 2013, Tavenner and Sebelius had assured skeptical lawmakers that the project was on schedule and that the site would be ready for its debut on Oct. 1. 2013.
But in the weeks prior to the website launch, Tavenner decided not to allow users to browse and compare health plans without first registering through a personal account. That extra hurdle contributed to the bottleneck of users that helped disable the website shortly after midnight on Oct. 1 as only 2,000 users tried to access the system nationwide.
A severe lack of system-wide testing and the administration’s gross underestimates of initial user volume helped triggered a torrent of system problems that kept nearly all users from being able to fully enroll in health plans.
A team of private technology specialists had the website working by the end of November 2013, but the resulting political firestorm continued for months.
In congressional hearings, Tavenner apologized for the website’s poor performance but said the setback “took us by surprise.”
On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell praised Tavenner’s resilience in helping to get the website up and running.
More than 8 million people ultimately signed up for coverage during the innaugural open enrollment period, surpassing the 7 million enrollees projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
“It’s a measure of her tenacity and dedication that after the tough initial rollout of HealthCare.gov, she helped right the ship, bringing aboard a systems integrator and overseeing an overhaul of the website,” Burwell said of Tavenner in a letter to HHS staff.
Former House Oversight committee chairman, Daryl Issa, R-CA, recently accused Tavenner of padding HealthCare.gov enrollment numbers by including 400,000 people who had enrolled in dental plans. Officials at CMS would later revise the enrollment numbers from 7.3 million to 6.9 million.
“Tavenner had to go,” Issa said in a statement on Friday. “She presided over HHS as it deceptively padded the Obamacare enrollment numbers. It was a deplorable example of an agency trying to scam the American people. They weren’t successful this time because of Congressional oversight. We deserve better.”
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA, was more diplomatic, saying he had a “positive working relationship” Tavenner.
“I respect her abilities and her willingness to engage in open and often productive conversation. CMS administrator is a tough job under regular circumstances, and hers was especially hard in implementing a misguided new health care law. I wish her well.”