Seema Verma asked about future of Medicare, Medicaid during confirmation hearing for CMS post

Seema Verma, Trump's pick for head of CMS
Seema Verma faced questions from a Senate committee this morning. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Seema Verma, President Donald Trump’s nominee as the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, was short on specifics as she faced questions this morning from a Senate committee about the future of those federal health programs.

Verma, a healthcare consultant from Indiana who helped design that state’s Medicaid expansion plan, frustrated some members of the Senate Finance Committee who pressed her for details as to how she would reshape the country’s Medicare and Medicaid programs. People are tired of political wrangling, “they just want their healthcare system to be fixed. … I want to be part of the solutions,” she said at the hearing.

The committee hearing was still going on as FierceHealthcare went to press and there were no questions asked of Verma about a potential conflict of interest created in Indiana over business arrangements with her consulting company.

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While committee member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in his opening remarks he wanted Verma to respond to those ethics questions, he had not yet questioned her over whether her consulting work conflicted with her public role in Indiana.

Verma advised Vice President Mike Pence on healthcare issues while he was Indiana’s governor and worked as CEO of the consulting firm she founded, SVC Inc. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that ethics experts said one of her business arrangements with Hewlett Packard conflicted with her public role.

Verma helped design Pence’s Medicaid expansion plan, the Healthy Indiana Plan, and her experience led her to help other states design their own proposals. Hewlett is the largest operator of state Medicaid claims processing systems, the AP report said.

The hearing did focus on healthcare policy. At times, committee members pressed Verma for specifics. For instance, would she support increasing the age for Medicare participation from 65 to 67 to help sustain the program? That decision is ultimately up to Congress, she said. She was also asked whether she thought it was a good idea to decrease the enrollment period for insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act for 2018 as proposed in a final rule released by the CMS yesterday. Verma ducked that question, saying she was not involved in the development of the final rule and wanted to review it. “I’ll be happy to report back,” she said.

“I’m sorry you have constraints put on you,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., about answering the committee’s questions. Wyden said he would like Verma to respond in writing to address some of the specific questions he raised that went unanswered.

For her part, Verma said she favored policies that result in better health outcomes and lower costs. She said she would support efforts to make drug costs more affordable and favor offering people more choices when it comes to healthcare.