Verma vows to defend pre-existing conditions despite ACA legal challenge

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Sen. Clair McCaskill grilled Verma about potential changes to protections for pre-existing conditions. (McCaskill Flickr)

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma vowed to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions even if the Affordable Care Act's latest legal challenge is successful. 

Verma told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that she is “deeply concerned about individuals with pre-existing conditions” and advocated for ensuring those with pre-existing conditions have access to the necessary coverage.

“If the law changes in any way, shape or form around that, we would work with Congress to address that issue to make sure they had the appropriate protections in place,” Verma said.

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Verma’s comments came as attorneys general in 20 states prepare their case to repeal the ACA entirely. A Texas judge has scheduled oral arguments to begin on Sept. 10. The Department of Justice has said it won’t defend the law in court.

She declined to comment on the pending lawsuit or whether she weighed in on the Trump administration’s decision not to defend the law.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., grilled Verma on exactly how she planned to protect vulnerable patients and pushed for Senate Republicans to hold a vote ensuring pre-existing conditions would be protected is the lawsuit is successful.

“There does not seem to be any sense of urgency about the fact that this lawsuit is moving its way through the courts and could blow up all protections,” she said.

The two-hour hearing was focused on improper payments in the Medicaid program, but routinely diverged to several hot-button healthcare issues including short-term health plans, Medicaid expansion, work requirements and rural hospital reimbursement.

The pending lawsuit came up several times among Democrats. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., absolved Verma of the decision not to defend the ACA in court, but lashed out at the Trump administration for targeting protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“It is disingenuous of this administration to say they believe in pre-existing conditions—protections in federal law for preexisting conditions—when they are currently in court arguing they are unconstitutional,” she said. “There is nothing consistent about that position.”