HCFA gets a new name, pledges responsiveness

Surrounded by members of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced a new name Thursday for the department's much-maligned Health Care Financing Administration--the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services--and the first steps of a proposed overhaul. "We are not just changing the name, we are changing the way we do business," vowed Thompson, who made HCFA reform one of his top priorities. Under the reorganization, the CMS, as it is being called, will be divided into three parts. The "Center for Beneficiary Choices" will oversee the Medicare+Choice program and help educate beneficiaries about their choices in receiving health care. The "Center for Medicare Management" will handle Medicare's traditional fee-for-service program. And the "Center for Medicaid and State Operations" will handle state-administered programs, including Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, insurance regulation and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act. The agency also will boost its outreach efforts to beneficiaries, said administrator Thomas Scully. These include a $35 million advertising campaign to coincide with Medicare's "open season" in the fall; expansion of Medicare's toll-free line--1-800-MEDICARE--from business hours to 24 hours, seven days per week; and a new "Web-based decision tool" that will help beneficiaries select health plans based on factors most important to them. Scully generated controversy in his first week by suggesting that Medicare might start "rating" healthcare providers. But Thompson said the results of those discussions would be in the next round of changes, to be announced in the coming weeks. The new agency also will be more responsive to Congress, said Scully, with a goal of responding to all congressional requests within 14 days by October 1. To demonstrate the new responsiveness, Scully personally presented to Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., a 15-page response to a list of proposed regulatory changes that she and Subcommittee ranking member Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., had sent last month. Thompson stressed that the department would make the changes-- including the name change--by reprogramming existing funds. "If Congress wants to give us more money, we can use it, but we won't be asking for any more," he said.
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