CMS nominee breezes through confirmation hearing

CMS nominee breezes through confirmation hearing
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

President Trump's pick to lead the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) cruised through her confirmation hearing Thursday, though Democrats showed frustration at her refusal to offer specifics. 

Seema Verma, a health consultant from Indiana who led the state's Medicaid reforms, didn't offer many specifics about how she would reform the national Medicaid and Medicare programs. 

She appeared to take a page out of the book of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who said frequently during his own confirmation hearing that he supported access to care but declined to provide specifics about reforms he may usher through. 

"We want to make sure all Americans have access to high-quality healthcare," Verma said, offering variations of that phrase throughout the hearing. 

Under then-Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDems face close polls in must-win Virginia Report: Trump administration officials urged furious Tillerson not to quit Authorities recover 47 firearms in connection with Las Vegas shooter MORE, she created HIP 2.0, which requires participants to make monthly contributions into health accounts to help pay for their medical services. 

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Price has praised Indiana’s plan as the “best practice,” signaling he may support reforms that require beneficiaries to pay into the system. 

She didn't say whether she would try to issue similar reforms for the federal Medicaid program. 

"The Healthy Indiana Plan is about empowering individuals to take ownership for their health. We believe in the potential for every individual to make decisions about their healthcare," she said. 

Republicans have long wanted to repeal ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and overhaul the way the program operates, and they hope Verma will be the one to help them do it. 

Some options Republicans support include block grants or per capita caps.

But she declined to say Thursday whether she would support either of those reforms.

"We can do a better job than what we have today in the [Medicaid] program," Verma said.

"What I support is the program working better, whether that is a block grant or per capita cap. There are many ways we can get there," she said. 

Democrats quickly expressed frustration with her answers, with Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezOvernight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible Poll: Most in NJ want Menendez to resign if found guilty MORE (D-N.J.) saying he would find it hard to vote for her confirmation if he doesn't know what she will do at the CMS.

"You've got to give me better than that," he said.

"I hope your responses to written questions will be better than that."

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate panel approves bill to speed up driverless cars Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump proclaims 'Cybersecurity Awareness Month' | Equifax missed chance to patch security flaw | Lawmakers await ex-CEO's testimony | SEC hack exposed personal data MORE (D-Fla.) suggested Verma had "constraints" placed on her regarding how she can respond to sensitive questions.

"I'm sorry that you have the constraints put on you so that you can't answer these questions forthrightly," Nelson said.

"These are the questions senior citizens are begging to hear the answers to."

Verma did not respond.

She also dodged questions about the proposed CMS rule released Wednesday. 

The regulation includes several changes that insurers have long pushed for, which could help them shore up their finances in the ObamaCare marketplace, helping prevent them from leaving the market or hiking premiums.  

Verma said she had no part in the rule and had not reviewed it yet.