Medicare administrator violated Hatch Act, says watchdog group

Medicare administrator violated Hatch Act, says watchdog group
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma on Friday.

CREW’s complaint to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) details how Verma used her official Twitter account to take a shot at “Medicare for all” in a Halloween-themed tweet on Wednesday.

The organization said Verma's tweet violated the Hatch Act.

Verma tweeted a photo of a T-shirt printed with "Medicare for all," calling it "this year's scariest Halloween costume."

She sent a follow-up tweet asking, "Did I get your attention? Good."

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"Medicare for All isn’t a joke," Verma wrote. "It’s a multi-trillion dollar drain on the American economy that will bankrupt future generations. It’s government controlled health care that will strip choice away from millions."

"It’s a bad idea," she added. "And it IS scary."

Verma on Wednesday also retweeted former Trump campaign senior adviser Boris Epshteyn attacking Democrats for their support of expanding the program Verma oversees.

“@SeemaCMS believes that Democrat-backed ‘Medicare For All’ is simply a bad idea,” he wrote along with an interview Verma gave. “The focus of the agency? Strengthening the Medicare program itself.”

CREW alleges in the complaint that Verma’s criticisms of Medicare for all mirror Republican talking points on the campaign trail.

“The message Ms. Verma conveyed through these actions, six days before the partisan political elections, is that the government disapproves of ‘Medicare for All’ and attributes that policy aim to pone of the parties running in those elections,” CREW wrote in the complaint. “The messaging that ‘Medicare for All’ is an aim of the Democratic Party is a key political message of the Republican Party in the lead-up to the midterm elections.”

“Ms. Verma’s efforts were designed to influence the outcome of these elections with respect to competing political parties and, as such, they violate the Hatch Act,” CREW conceded.

The act bars federal employees from using their offices, work resources and social media accounts for political purposes. 

Those found to have violated the law can be fined as much as $1,000 and face disciplinary actions like suspension or termination.

The Hill has reached out to CMS for comment.

This is not the first time that members of the Trump administration have been accused of violating the Hatch Act.

CREW filed a Hatch Act complaint against White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway rips Trump's defense of Daniels, McDougal payments George Conway rips Giuliani for calling alleged campaign finance violations 'not a big crime' Chris Cuomo to Kellyanne Conway: I'll call you a liar ‘if I have to’ MORE last week for posting a tweet promoting the Republican Party or Trump’s campaign slogan on the social media account linked to her job in the administration. 

“For a second consecutive week, we are filing a complaint against a Trump administration official for illegally using an official position for partisan politics,” CREW's executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said in a statement.

“Administrator Verma, who oversees benefits to millions of Americans, should be particularly sensitive about not abusing her position for politics, and she certainly should know better by now after the administration’s many previous violations. We are now left to assume that Trump administration officials are well aware of their obligations under the Hatch Act and simply have no intention of following the law,” Bookbinder added.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyShowdown at the Security Council? North Korea evading US sanctions: report Haley: I used Trump’s ‘unpredictable’ behavior to my advantage at UN MORE, Deputy Assistant to the President and Communications Director for the Office of the First Lady Stephanie Grisham and White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino have all previously been cited for Hatch Act violations.