Democrat asks for CMS pick's views on Medicare

A president's cabinet takes shape

Sen. Ron Wyden, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said during a vote on her nomination that he wished he knew a little about what she thinks about Medicare. (Photo: Senate Finance) Sen. Ron Wyden, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said during a vote on her nomination that he wished he knew a little about what she thinks about Medicare. (Photo: Senate Finance)

Sen. Ron Wyden said today that he needs more information about how Seema Verma sees Medicare.

President Donald Trump has nominated Verma to be the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, oversees Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act public exchange plan program.

Related: CMS nominee backs patient choice at Senate hearing

Wyden, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, objected to her answers so far at a committee vote on her nomination.

Verma is a health care consultant who has helped Indiana and other states set up managed Medicaid programs that incorporate health reimbursement arrangements.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee chairman, said Verma is highly qualified to run CMS.

"I don't think anyone doubts that," Hatch said at the hearing, which was streamed live on the web. A recording of the hearing is available on the committee's website.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said nothing about Verma's qualifications.

But Wyden said he has concerns about the fact that Verma's firm sold services to companies like Milliman while the Medicaid program she was building purchased services from those firms for the state of Indiana.

Verma did comply with Indiana's conflict-of-interest rules, because she disclosed her firm's business relationships, and because she always worked as a consultant, not as a state employee, Wyden said. Wyden said he believes that Indiana should have applied tougher conflict-of-interest rules to a long-term consultant like Verma.

Wyden was critical about Verma's answers to Democrats' questions about her ideas about Medicare.

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Verma's nomination Feb. 16. Democratic senators asked Verma to follow up by responding to written questions about Medicare.

"We have not been asking gotcha questions," Wyden said.

Wyden said Democrats had asked Verma to give them one example of a strategy Medicare might use to cut prescription drug costs, or how Medicare might improve support for rural doctors.

"The answers to the written questions were worse than what we got at the hearing," Wyden said. "There's just no content there."

The Senate Finance vote on the Verma nomination conflicted with a session on the Senate floor. Some senators had aides tell the committee how they would vote on the Verma nomination.

The full vote, including the proxy votes, was 15 to 11. All Republicans who voted supported Verma. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, was the only Democrat who crossed party lines to support her.

The actual vote of the members present was a 9-to-9 tie. Because the committee could not use the proxy votes to break the tie, the committee had to postpone the formal vote on the nomination back to Thursday.

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