Politics & Government

Medicaid nominee won’t discuss Trump’s proposed changes to Obamacare

In this Jan. 10, 2017, file photo, Seema Verma, left, then President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gets on an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. Verma, the businesswoman selected by President Donald Trump to oversee Medicaid, the health care program for 74 million low-income Americans, has said the program is structurally flawed at its core by policies that burden states and foster dependency in the poor.
In this Jan. 10, 2017, file photo, Seema Verma, left, then President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gets on an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. Verma, the businesswoman selected by President Donald Trump to oversee Medicaid, the health care program for 74 million low-income Americans, has said the program is structurally flawed at its core by policies that burden states and foster dependency in the poor. AP

In her Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Seema Verma, Trump’s pick to head the Medicare and Medicaid program, wouldn’t discuss the Trump administration’s proposed new rules for the individual health insurance market.

Sayng she wasn’t involved in developing the proposals and hasn’t had time to review them, Verma told members of the Senate Finance Committee that she “can’t speak” to the proposals, which health care advocates say heavily favor insurers while weakening consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act.

The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed cutting the sign-up period for marketplace enrollment in half. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the move could reduce program enrollment. Verma said she would have to review the implications of the proposal before she could comment on the possible effects.

Wyden also expressed concerns about Verma’s dual role as a Medicaid consultant for Indiana and other states while she was under contract to several large Medicaid contractors.

The arrangement raises questions about whether Verma unduly prioritized the interests of these companies while working on behalf of taxpayers.

Under questioning from committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Verma said she had consulted with the Health and Human Services office of ethics and, if confirmed as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, would recuse herself from all matters that presented possible conflicts of interest.

Verma defended her controversial Medicaid expansion program in Indiana, which had been criticized as overly punitive because it requires low-income enrollees to pay monthly premiums and imposes six-month coverage lockouts if people miss payments.

Verma testified that individuals who maintained their payments had better health outcomes, even though they were sicker than other Medicaid enrollees.

“They had more primary care, more preventative care. They had lower (emergency room) use. They were more satisfied with their care. And we also showed they had better adherence to the drug regimens that doctors prescribed,” Verma said.

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