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Tavenner, the Anti-Berwick?

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, November 30, 2011

"When you use the term technocrat there is almost a pejorative sense to it," he says. "To be a technocrat and try to run something means you probably get lost in the weeds. Marilyn doesn't get lost in the weeds. Not that there isn't an important place in the world for policy wonks but I would never characterize Marilyn as someone with her head in the clouds."

In many respects, Sartoris says, Tavenner reflects the character of the people in rural Henry County in western Virginia, where she was raised. "Her feet are very firmly planted," he says. "She is also a person of few words. She doesn't talk to hear herself think and for a long time she has been used to getting to the nut of the problem and trying to address it without a lot of the other distractions that may surround it."

"It is the way she has always been. See a problem. Analyze it. Come up with an approach you are going to take and make the decisions," he says. "Considering the job she is going into, decision making is an important part of process with all those different pots boiling on the CMS stove right now."

Sartoris declined to speculate on the suggestion that Tavenner was picked because she provides a sharp contrast to Berwick.

"I can't say why the White House picked her, but I can tell you why I would pick her," he says. "Marilyn has the necessary management skills to deal with a large and extremely complex organization and be a quick decision maker, using appropriate analysis of the appropriate facts presented. That is the Marilyn I have known for a long time."

Houck says he believes Tavenner could flourish at CMS if Congress will give her the chance. "If they could lay aside the partisanship and work with Marilyn, I think they will find she is very easy to work with in terms of trying to get a mutual agreeable result," Houck says. "But I am not sure that is part of the equation in Washington these days."


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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