February 17, 2017

CMS Head Nominee Answers Senate Panel Questions

The Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing Feb. 16 for Seema Varma, MPH, President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Regarded as one of the foremost experts in applying conservative policies within state Medicaid policy, Verma is a relative newcomer to federal politics. As founder and CEO of SVC, Inc., a strategic health care policy consulting firm, Verma is best known for assisting then Gov. Mike Pence’s administration expand Medicaid coverage in Indiana as permitted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). SVC, Inc. has consulted with numerous other Republican-led states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia, on Medicaid Section 1151 waivers and Medicaid expansion.

Verma announced in a letter made public on Feb. 13 that if confirmed she would resign as CEO and fully divest from the consulting firm within 90 days of her confirmation. In addition, Verma indicated that she would not participate “personally or substantially” in matters in which SVC, Inc. was involved unless authorized to do so. In particular, the letter stressed that the CMS nominee would recuse herself from matters involving former clients for one year.

Prior to starting SVC, Inc., Verma served as vice president of planning for the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County (IN) and as a director with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) in Washington, DC. Verma received a bachelor’s degree in lIfe sciences from the University of Maryland, and a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

Despite her limited experience in federal government, Verma’s hearing resembled Tom Price’s appearance before the Finance Committee prior to his confirmation as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Republicans complimented Verma’s deep knowledge of health care policy as well as her commitment to assist with repealing and replacing PPACA and improving Medicare and Medicaid.

Democrats, however, pressured the nominee to provide greater specifics regarding her views toward Medicare and Medicaid primarily citing past statements or popular Republican policies as indicators that she will undermine the effectiveness of federal health care policy.

Verma also answered many questions about whether she would recuse herself from pending Medicaid Section 1151 waiver applications filed by states that she advised through SVC, Inc. At times the nominee was forced to defend herself against claims of ethical misconduct or conflicts of interest stemming from her work for the State of Indiana. Verma served as a state government contractor during Indiana’s Medicaid expansion efforts while simultaneously working as a paid consultant for a health care division of Hewlett Packard, one of the Hoosier state’s largest Medicaid claims processing vendors.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has yet to set a date for Verma’s confirmation vote. Her nomination is expected to pass via a party line vote. After receiving a likely positive recommendation from the Finance Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will then schedule a vote for the full Senate on her confirmation.