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 PenceMike (Michael) Richard PenceOvernight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel Innocent until proven guilty: Lawyering up doesn’t make Mike Pence or anyone else guilty The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill 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 MenendezBipartisan group, Netflix actress back bill for American Latino Museum The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations 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 NelsonBill NelsonSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Driverless cars speed onto political agenda Biden leaves options on table for another White House bid 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.