Why do we call it “CMS” instead of “CMMS”?

I’ve seen this question posed on Twitter several times over the years—and it just came up in a meeting this afternoon: Why do we drop one of the M’s in Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services?

Uwe Reinhardt was on the case way back in 2003. Here’s an excerpt of an interview he conducted with Tom Scully, then-administrator of CMS. (Emphasis added.)

Reinhardt: A telecom lawyer? Look at your staggering opportunity costs of becoming a health policy wonk, Tom. You could have become chief legal counsel for WorldCom instead and be even more famous today than you already are.

Let me end by asking you about something that has puzzled me for some time. Your first act as the newly appointed CMS administrator (or HCFA, as it was then called) was to field a contest for a new name for your agency. I had submitted to your staff the name “Senior Health Insurance Trust,” but for some reason that mellow name got no response. You chose instead “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services” and collapsed it into the acronym CMS. What has intrigued me ever since is this: When you chose that acronym, CMS, which of the two Ms—Medicare or Medicaid—didn’t you give a dang about?

Scully: [HHS] Secretary [Tommy] Thompson and I had an employee contest, and we picked the name from a group of finalists. He liked Medicare and Medicaid Administration, but our focus groups showed that MMA—pronounced “Mama”—would not be funny to half the population. So we went with CMMS—but since I already mumble anyway, I suggested that we shorten it to CMS. He agreed.

Sometimes it really is that simple. I still think it’s too bad they flushed Uwe’s idea, though.

Adrianna (@onceuponA)

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