Bush announces nomination for HHS chief

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President Bush on Monday nominated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Mike Leavitt to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
   
Leavitt, 53, is a former governor of Utah who served in his current position at the EPA for 14 months. As head of HHS, Leavitt would oversee an agency with 67,000 employees and a $573-billion budget. The health secretary is responsible for an array of programs and agencies, including Medicare and Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
   
Congressional aides and independent policy experts say Leavitt may have to cut billions of dollars from the government's health programs for the elderly, poor and disabled to pare the budget deficit. The Medicare and Medicaid programs, consuming nearly $500 billion a year, could be vulnerable in the context of last year's $413 billion budget deficit, the ongoing war in Iraq, costly domestic security commitments and administration plans to revamp Social Security without raising taxes.
   
Leavitt would replace departing HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. Thompson helped to create the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and named David Brailer, MD, PhD, as the first National Health Information Technology Coordinator.