The health program consultant who may be the next head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says the best medicine for U.S. health care system problems is patient choice.
Seema Verma, Trump’s nominee for the CMS administrator post, talked often about the importance of putting the patient in the driver’s seat today at a nomination hearing organized by the Senate Finance Committee.
CMS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, oversees Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act programs, such as the ACA exchange system, the ACA rate review program, and the ACA minimum medical loss ratio requirements.
As the head of Medicare and Medicaid, she would help regulate long-term care programs that pay about 60 percent of U.S. nursing home bills and 20 percent of home health care bills.
Verma avoided providing direct, detailed answers to many of the senators’ questions regarding specific concerns about Medicare, Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. She instead said one of her principles is that patients and their doctors should be the ones making decisions about care, not the federal government.
“We need to ensure that people have choices about their care,” Verma said, according to a video of the hearing that streamed on the Senate Finance Committee website. “We shouldn’t assume that all vulnerable or low-income populations don’t want choices, or aren’t capable of making the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
Verma, the owner of Indianapolis-based SVC Inc., is best known for her successful effort to build a system similar to a health reimbursement arrangement into the Indiana Medicaid program. Her company has also helped build HRA-like accounts into other states’ Medicaid programs, and it provided training programs for Indiana’s Affordable Care Act public exchange system navigators.
Verma has faced less criticism than many other Trump administration cabinet nominees, and the tone of the hearing was generally cordial.
Sen. Orrin Hatch received a clear answer about Medicare Advantage, and a fuzzier answer about long-term care programs. (Photo: Senate Finance)
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed concern about the fact that SVC received payments from some vendors, such as Milliman Inc., an actuarial firm, while it was involved in managing their work for Indiana’s Medicaid program. But Wyden acknowledged that SVC’s activities complied with Indiana state conflict-of-interest rules. Verma said that her firm had disclosed its business relationships and tried to arrange its activities to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Democrats on the committee also questioned whether Verma was giving them enough information about her views on important health policy issues.
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked Verma whether she could promise that she would work to preserve and strengthen the Medicare Advantage program.
Verma gave a clear, straightforward answer to that question. “I can,” she said. “It would be a pleasure for me to work with you on that.”
But, when Hatch asked Verma earlier about her views on the future of federal long-term care programs, given the changing demographics of the American people, Verma gave a general answer about the need to make Medicaid more flexible and reduce the amount of paperwork states have to do to improve their Medicaid programs.