The Senate this evening has confirmed Seema Verma as the next Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator by a vote of 55 to 43, an expected outcome for President Trump’s pick to run the federal healthcare agency.
Verma, president, CEO and founder of SVC, Inc., a national health policy consulting company, now joins Tom Price, M.D., who was confirmed a month ago as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as two key leaders who will help shape the future of American healthcare under Trump. Verma and Price replace Andy Slavitt and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, respectively, both who served their roles in the Obama administration.
In this evening’s vote, every Republican senator on the floor who took part in the process voted “yes” for Verma’s nomination, while 42 of the 43 “nays” came from Democrats, with one coming from Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is now an independent. Three Democratic senators in total, in addition to 51 Republicans and one independent, voted in favor of Verma’s nomination.
Verma first faced the Senate Committee on Finance in February for a lengthy hearing in which she was sharply questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), mostly about keeping Americans insured and her past conflicts of interest in which he alleged that she “contracted directly with the state of Indiana while also contracting with at least five companies that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in services and products to the programs she was helping the state manage.” This has been a point of contention between some Democratic Congressmen and Verma ever since her nomination. In response, Verma has defended herself on the allegations multiple times, saying she recused herself if any conflict of interest ever presented itself.
In their Senate hearings, both Verma and Price placed emphasis on de-regulation, specifically reducing the complexities of CMS rules. They also stressed that health IT must lessen the burden on U.S. physicians, rather than increase it. In her first Senate hearing, Verma said in her opening statement, “Doctors are increasingly frustrated by the number of costly and time-consuming burdens. CMS’ rules and regulations should not drive doctors form serving their beneficiaries.” She added, “Patients and doctors should make the decisions about their healthcare, not the federal government. We need to find ways to leverage innovation and technology to drive better care.” She noted further that she has been around doctors “where they're staring at the computer instead of looking at me."
In that same hearing, Verma also applauded the passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), noting, “It was an important step forward to provide stability for providers and move us toward better outcomes.” She also said a few times in the hearing that MACRA “will be a challenge for small and rural providers, but that it’s a worthy goal. We have to support them,” she said. “For smaller providers taking risk, they will be reluctant since they don’t have the financial reserves that bigger health systems have.”
As Healthcare Informatics reported shortly after Trump announced her nomination, Verma worked in Indiana first with former Gov. Mitch Daniels, and then Gov. Mike Pence, now the nation’s vice president, on healthcare policy following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She was an architect behind the Healthy Indiana Plan, an insurance program that was designed for people with low incomes that requires participants to pay minimal monthly contributions based on their incomes. This sparked some controversy, as the requirement of the poor to pay even small monthly fees to remain eligible for healthcare services has been considered by Democrats to be unfair. Nonetheless, many Republican administrators applaud Verma for being able to put this plan in place under a Democratic healthcare law, Obamacare.
On the Senate floor today, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement, “Ms. Verma is extremely qualified with a health policy background and a record of success. She is committed to protecting Medicare and modernizing Medicaid so the programs deliver the best results for those who need it. She also understands the challenges that Obamacare has created for families.”
Healthcare Informatics will continue to have industry reaction on the Verma confirmation as the week unfolds.