Marilyn Tavenner is stepping down after three tumultuous years at the helm of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a K Street powerhouse that's seen its influence decline as Washington grew more hostile to Obamacare.
Tavenner oversaw AHIP as Republicans took full control of the federal government, hellbent on dismantling the 2010 health care law. The industry group was forced to take on that fight with diminished resources, with three of the country’s largest insurers — UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Humana — dropping out of the organization in recent years. AHIP spent $6.5 million on lobbying last year — a nearly 40 percent decline from four years earlier.
Tavenner will be replaced by Matt Eyles, who is currently the lobby's chief operating officer.
The 2015 hiring of Tavenner, who served as CMS administrator under former President Barack Obama, was initially seen as a coup following the departure of AHIP's longtime, dynamic leader Karen Ignagni. But having one of the most prominent faces of Obamacare at the head of the organization became less of an asset after President Donald Trump took office seeking to wipe out his predecessor’s health care legacy.
Insurers suffered a pair of high-profile hits on their Obamacare business in recent months, despite their efforts to stabilize the law's fragile marketplaces. Trump scrapped cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers in October, and Republicans repealed the law's individual mandate in their tax cut package.
Health insurers did score a couple major wins in Washington last year. They helped fight off massive Medicaid cuts Republican lawmakers proposed as part of the Obamacare repeal effort, and Congress suspended the law's health insurance tax for 2019. In addition, private Medicare and Medicaid plans have continued to prosper regardless of which party is in power.
“There’s so much happening at the state level around Medicaid,“ Eyles told POLITICO, citing the possibility that more states will expand Medicaid and conservative states will add work requirements to the program. “I think Medicaid is going to be a key priority for the foreseeable future.”
Even as several major insurers have split from AHIP, the group added a dozen new members last year. That includes WellCare, one of the country’s largest Medicaid plans.
“We finished last year in a really strong financial position,” Eyles said.
Eyles joined AHIP in 2015, leading its policy and regulatory work. He previously served as a vice president at Coventry Health Care, which is now part of Aetna. His resume also includes stints with drugmakers Pfizer and Eli Lilly, as well as the CBO.
Tavenner is retiring on June 1. Eyles will take over the top job at what remains a precarious time for the insurance industry. Republicans are unlikely to take another stab at dismantling the Affordable Care Act anytime soon, after their repeated failures last year. But the Obamacare markets remain shaky, with dwindling competition and skyrocketing premiums.
Insurers are currently pushing to get a stabilization package included in the omnibus spending bill that needs to clear Congress by March 23. But Democrats and Republicans remain sharply divided on the details, leaving the prospects for inclusion looking remote.
“We think it’s critically important to get a stabilization, premium reduction package in place,” Eyles said. “The time is now.“