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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Finance Committee Holds CMS Administrator Confirmation Hearing

    Jason Kleinman, Senior Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations

    The Senate Finance Committee Feb. 16 held a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Administrator nominee, Seema Verma.

    In her testimony, Verma expressed that she is “deeply concerned about our health care system. There is frustration all around. Doctors are increasingly frustrated by a number of costly and time-consuming burdens, and quite frankly, many Americans are not getting the care that they need.” She added, “Providing high quality, accessible healthcare for these Americans isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity and often a matter of life and death.”

    Verma highlighted the themes of patient choice and state flexibility throughout her testimony. She noted, “We need to ensure that people have choices about their care. 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. We must find creative ways to empower people to take ownership of their health and be engaged in making cost and quality decisions as they seek care.” She added, “I will work toward ushering in a new era of state flexibility and leadership. For too long our state partners have been sharing in the cost but have not been allowed to have a meaningful role in decision making.”

    In his opening statement, Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) noted, “The Medicaid program was designed to be a safety net for the most vulnerable Americans. As such, I understand and value the moral and social responsibilities the federal government has in ensuring health care coverage for our most needy citizens.” He continued to state his concern about the costs of the program, warning, “But we must also acknowledge that the Medicaid program is three times larger—both in terms of enrollment and expenditures—than it was just 20 years ago. Additionally, the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare exacerbated pressures on the program at a time when many states were already facing difficult choices about which benefits and populations to serve. As a result, we have a responsibility to consider alternative funding arrangements that could help to preserve this important program.”

    Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) began his opening statement by focusing on the Medicare program. He cautioned, “Privatizing Medicare is the wrong direction for people across the country who expect the program to be there for them in their later years.” He also added, “Additionally, if confirmed, Ms. Verma will play a key role implementing the bipartisan Medicare physician payment reforms. It’s essential that she implement the law as intended by Congress as America’s health care system continues the long-needed shift from paying for volume to paying for value.”

    Chairman Wyden also expressed his concern over the Healthy Indiana 2.0 plan, Indiana’s Medicaid waiver that Verma designed, noting, “I have great reservations about taking these questionable ideas on a nationwide tour.”

    Senator Wyden also used the opportunity to criticize the administration on its release of a Feb. 15 proposed rule affecting insurance coverage next year [see related story]. He stated, “From where I sit, the message from that rule is clear: insurance companies are back in charge, and patients are taking a back seat...All of this sounds to me like a step backward towards health care only for the healthy and wealthy.”