5:08pm

Wed January 5, 2011
Shots - Health News Blog

HHS Insurance Oversight Office To Become Part Of Medicare Agency

A health reform office charged with overseeing the insurance industry is about to be folded into the federal Medicare agency, signaling a major organizational shift just months after the office was created.

Health officials made the announcement to staffers Wednesday, officials at both the Medicare and insurance oversight agencies told Shots. Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, attended the meeting.

The Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight was created to guide the implementation of key parts of the health overhaul law. Its director, Jay Angoff, a class-action litigator who took on insurance companies, was appointed to lead the group in April.

Staffers were told Angoff would be stepping down from the helm of the oversight agency to become a senior adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The office will become the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Medicare agency, and will be managed by Marilyn Tavenner, Medicare's deputy administrator. No staff cuts were announced.

One possibility is the administration is seeking shelter for its embattled health programs in the larger Medicare agency. Republicans, who this week won control of the House, have scheduled a vote on repealing the health law for Jan. 12 and threatened to defund individual programs if the repeal effort fails, a likely outcome.

"This looks like another defensive move by an administration anticipating tough challenges from a Republican House," said Alec Vachon, a health care consultant. But, Vachon added, the Medicare agency, is already "woefully underresourced," short on both staff and administrative funding.

Berwick also spoke with staff about other new responsibilities the Medicare agency is taking on, including a so-called Innovation Center that would experiment with new ways to pay for health care, and an office to address the issues of dual eligibles, the term for people who benefit from both Medicare and Medicaid, the agency that pays for low-income people's health care. Copyright 2011 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.