Capitol Correspondence - 06.30.20

White House Staff Departure Leads to Double Role for Head of Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

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White House Staff Departure Leads to Double Role for Head of Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

The Domestic Policy Council (DPC), which advises the President on many issues and whose members have held leadership roles shaping the Administration’s health policy, has announced a replacement for a recently announced departure of a Council staffer. This is leading to staff changes at an agency focused on exploring innovations in Medicare and Medicaid.

As reported by Politico Pulse: “MARIA BONNER is leaving the Trump administration this week after more than a year on its Domestic Policy Council, multiple people familiar with the departure told Pulse. Bonner was most recently the White House’s deputy domestic policy adviser.

Former DPC chief Joe Grogan told Pulse that Bonner was his first hire after taking the helm of the panel in early 2019, calling her an ‘integral part of the health team.’”

Politico Pro reported on her replacement: “The White House is planning to tap senior HHS official Brad Smith to hold a new role as a top domestic policy aide on health care, according to five people with knowledge of the plan.

Background: Smith, a health care entrepreneur who joined the Trump administration in January, leads the CMS innovation center and serves as an adviser to Secretary Alex Azar on payment reform. He has emerged as a key figure in the coronavirus response and is expected to also remain in his HHS roles. [ANCOR note: The innovation center referred to is the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). We have been monitoring CMMI because it has been exploring value-based payment models that could set precedents for the Medicaid program in the future.] 

White House officials were said to be impressed by Smith’s work on ramping up testing and supplies as part of a group convened by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. Smith, a one-time Rhodes Scholar and protege of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has developed a reputation inside the administration as a technocrat, said one HHS official.

The White House and HHS declined to comment.

The White House has yet to finalize the decision, people with knowledge of the plans cautioned. But if appointed, Smith would replace Maria Bonner, who is leaving the Trump administration this week and returning to the private sector.

Bonner spent just more than a year at the DPC, first as a special assistant focused on FDA policy before inheriting a wider health portfolio in January as deputy domestic policy adviser.

What it means: Smith’s multiple roles could prove taxing, but two officials said it was seen as preferential to replacing the CMS innovation center chief just months ahead of the election.

Having Smith work at HHS and sit on the DPC could also smooth a policymaking process that has been hampered by a series of high-profile disagreements between Azar and the White House’s policy arm over the administration’s health agenda.”