Obama Health Care Officials Switch Jobs, Reorganize

As newly empowered Republicans step up their assault on the health care overhaul, the Obama administration is making major changes in the team that’s implementing and selling the law.

The Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, created just after the law passed, is about to be folded into the federal Medicare agency, signaling a major organizational shift just months after the office was created, administration officials said.

In addition, Michael Hash, who has been serving as a top White House health adviser, has taken the reins of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. Hash succeeds Jeanne Lambrew,  who has been director of the office since May 2009 and has played a central role on the health law. Lambrew, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, will stay on at HHS as an adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 

Also, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a health care adviser in the Office of Management and Budget and brother of former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, departed earlier this week, an administration official confirmed. He returned to his job at the National Institutes of Health, where he leads the Department of Bioethics. He was temporarily detailed to the White House in 2009.

The insurance oversight office was headed by Jay Angoff, who battled with insurance companies both as a Missouri official and a class-action litigator. He’ll become a senior adviser to Sebelius. 

The office will become part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and will be managed by Marilyn Tavenner, deputy administrator of CMS.

HHS officials, in emails to reporters, said that the insurance office was created to quickly develop new policies, and that now that it’s time to implement those strategies, “it makes sense to house this Office within an operating division. It not only builds upon existing expertise in managing operations but it also will result in a more efficient use of resources.”

Given the heated politics of the health care law, some analysts suggested that the administration was trying to protect the office by making it part of the larger Medicare agency. Republicans, who in the November elections won control of the House, have scheduled a vote on repealing the health law for Wednesday and have threatened to cut off funding to individual programs if the repeal effort fails, as expected.

“This looks like another defensive move by an administration anticipating tough challenges from a Republican House,” said Alec Vachon, a health care consultant and former Republican aide on Capitol Hill.