The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that Andrew Slavitt, the second-ranking official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will take over the role of administrator of CMS in an acting capacity following the resignation of Marilyn Tavenner.

Having Slavitt — who before joining CMS was an executive vice president at Optum — take over on an interim basis might be a positive sign for the future, especially for brokers, says Michael Lujan, the former head of sales and marketing at California’s state-run public exchange and current president and co-founder of Redwood City, Calif.-based Limelight Health.

He explains that it takes one skillset to implement policy and another to make it operational and carry through. “Andy is an indicator of who they might put in permanently,” he says. “That’s great. Someone with industry background who knows how to operate this stuff.”

The head of the agency behind the rollout of the Affordable Care Act announced Friday that she is stepping down at the end of February. While no reasons were given by her or the agency, those who monitor the space say the timing of the announcement may provide some clues.

Tavenner announced her resignation in a Friday e-mail to staff, writing, “It is with sadness and mixed emotions that I write to tell you that February will be my last month serving as the Administrator for CMS. I have great pride and joy knowing all that we have accomplished together since I came on board five years ago in February of 2010.”

Also see: “CMS head Tavenner to step down

Industry reaction

Lujan says the timing of her announcement before 2015 open enrollment ends on Feb. 15 and data on enrollment is provided may be telling. MD Sam Smith of Encino, Calif.-based Genesis Insurance agrees, noting that when the Medicaid budget figures for Medicaid expansion start coming in, “you will see [officials] running for every rock they can crawl under,” due to numbers so much bigger than originally thought  and not wanting to explain to Congress “what went wrong.”

The Republican-led Congress is going to be looking to get answers and create “high heat to create headlines” for the 2016 presidential election, says Smith.

“If I were her, I would resign. Who wants to go through that?” Smith, immediate past president of the California Association of Health Underwriters, says. “Not everything that went wrong was her fault, [but] Republicans are going to want answers in front of TV cameras and it’s a legitimate thing to do because the public deserves answers.”

The Department of Health and Human Services and CMS declined to comment on the reason for Tavenner’s resignation, answer any questions or comment on future plans for the agency.

Lujan notes that while questions remain about why Tavenner left, everyone, including Republicans, recognizes she did work hard in her time as administrator.

That was echoed in a statement from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who said Tavenner "has done a great job in a very difficult position under near impossible circumstances. She has proven herself to be a strong leader and a straight-shooter who brought in much needed private sector sensibility into the agency. I truly appreciate her service and wish her the very best in her next adventure.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.),  ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, also thanked Tavenner for her work, “which [has] left an indelible mark on the history of our nation by successfully implementing the Affordable Care Act and providing critical healthcare to millions of Americans.  I look forward to working with Acting Administrator Slavitt to continue this and other important tasks.”

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