The Center for Medicare Advocacy Comments on the Confirmation Hearing of Seema Verma

February 17, 2017 – WASHINGTON – Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing for Seema Verma, President Trump’s nominee for Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Ms. Verma is currently president, CEO and founder of SVC, Inc., a national health policy consulting company.

“While short on specifics, it was clear from the hearing that Ms. Verma will favor private insurance models that purport to give individual choice and lower costs through marketplace competition,” says Judith Stein, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “She is unlikely to advance mandatory core benefit packages and likely to defer to states and industry in the guise of options and innovation. Her testimony should alarm advocates who fear further privatizing Medicare and capitating Medicaid,” Ms. Stein continued.

Ms. Verma commended the private Medicare Part D model, but her positions were less clear about many key issues, like the existing law to eliminate the Part D “Donut Hole” and policy proposals to increase the Medicare age of eligibility and capitate Medicaid. She also failed to articulate a clear position on whether Medicare should be able to negotiate on prescription drug prices, which President Trump championed during his campaign.

The overall impression of Ms. Verma’s vision, as expressed during her confirmation hearing, can be summarized in two words: Choice and Competition. These are warning signs for the majority of Americans who support Medicare in its current form.

The best news from the hearing may have come when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D – OH.) asked a question about Observation Status. Observation Status is a hospital billing classification that results in Medicare patients being charged for prescriptions, other costs, and nursing home care after leaving the hospital. Ms. Verma said she wants to improve it. Ms. Verma also said she would work with providers and hoped to review concerns about access to Skilled Nursing Facilities. The other positive moment came in response to a question from Sen. Bill Nelson (D – FL.), when Ms. Verma indicated she did not favor turning Medicare into a voucher program.

As advocates for older and disabled people, the Center for Medicare Advocacy will do all we can to work with Ms. Verma if she is confirmed, while also resisting threats to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. We will continue to oppose efforts that would shut doors to care as the confirmation process and Trump Administration unfold.