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Obama nominates Tavenner to lead Medicare and Medicaid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday renominated one of his top healthcare advisers to lead the federal agency responsible for overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and the implementation of his 2010 healthcare reform law.

If confirmed by the Senate, Marilyn Tavenner would become the first official head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) since 2006. She currently leads the same agency as acting administrator.

As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CMS runs the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs that serve about 100 million elderly, disabled and low-income people at a cost estimated at $885 billion for this year. Both programs are at the center of a looming debate in Congress over how to reduce the federal deficit.

If confirmed as agency chief, Tavenner would also exercise official authority over the biggest expansion of healthcare coverage in more than a generation under Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," which is expected to extend coverage to 38 million people over the next 10 years.

CMS has been a target of Republican opposition to Obama's healthcare policies since early in his presidency.

Tavenner, a nurse and former hospital executive, became acting administrator in late 2011 and was nominated to lead the agency. But the Senate never acted on her nomination.

Her predecessor, healthcare reform expert Donald Berwick, had assumed the job through a temporary appointment in July 2010 but left after less than 18 months when Senate Republicans made it clear that they would not allow his nomination.

Tavenner has won praise from some Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and enjoys strong support among healthcare industry groups and consumer advocates.

"Republicans are eager to discuss the impact of Obamacare's growing costs and broken promises, and the administration's neglect of Medicare's impending bankruptcy," Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a statement regarding Tavenner's nomination.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andrew Hay and Paul Simao)

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