New Medicare chief promises transparency, accountability

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) acting Administrator Kerry Weems on Wednesday promised higher levels of transparency and accountability at his agency.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, one week after he took office, Weems vowed to make CMS’s operations and decision-making more public, to improve program management and to evaluate the agency’s relationships with health plans and other private contractors.

“We’re going to try and do our business in daylight. I mean that literally and figuratively,” said Weems, whose nomination as CMS administrator is pending in the Senate.

One of Weems’s first official acts last week was to disapprove an application by New York to expand coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Weems noted that the announcement went out at the beginning of the business day, a departure from standard CMS practice.

“That happened in the morning, in daylight. It was not a cocktail-hour press release. We are going to try to end those,” he said.

Weems acknowledged that an August letter from CMS to state officials, which outlined strict new SCHIP expansion guidelines, should have been issued more openly. “We probably could have done a slightly better job of the way that that letter got out,” he said.

Weems also said CMS would seek to refute criticisms that the agency is too close to and too lenient on the private companies with which it does business.

“The tone that I’m trying to set is that CMS needs to make sure that we maintain an arm’s-length relationship with our partners,” he said.