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Senate Confirms Seema Verma as Next CMS Administrator

The Senate approved President Trump’s pick, Seema Verma, for CMS Administrator in a recent 55 to 43 vote.

Seema Verma, a health policy expert, will be the next head of CMS, the Senate confirmed

Source: Thinkstock

- In a 55 to 43 vote yesterday, the Senate confirmed Seema Verma as the next CMS Administrator, according to a New York Times article.

Verma, the founder, president, and CEO of a health policy consulting firm, will be charged with managing both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which spend over $1 trillion a year on providing healthcare services to more than one-third of Americans.

The new CMS Administrator, like those before her, is also tasked with carrying out the Affordable Care Act. Among her duties may also be implementing a potential Affordable Care Act repeal law. House representatives proposed a replacement bill earlier this month called the American Health Care Act.

However, unlike CMS administrators before her, Verma has more experience with the Medicaid program, the New York Times reported. Through SVC Inc., her consulting firm, Verma partnered with state insurance companies and public health agencies to restructure state Medicaid programs and implement Medicaid expansion projects under the Affordable Care Act.

She worked extensively with newly-elected Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion project.

Prior to Pence’s tenure as governor, Verma developed the state’s “Healthy Indiana Plan,” which expanded coverage options to low-income individuals without employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

The plan notably contained an individual  financial responsibility component. Individuals covered by the program had to contribute every month to health savings accounts and pay their premiums or face expulsion from the program for up to 12 months.

Pence collaborated with Verma during his stint as Indiana governor to improve and continue the Healthy Indiana Plan.

She also worked closely with several other states, including Iowa, Ohio, and Kentucky, to develop their own Medicaid expansion plans and implement them after federal approval. Many of the Medicaid expansion programs she developed, especially those for Republican-led states, also included some form of increased individual financial responsibility, like Indiana’s plan, or a requirement to be working or actively looking for work for inclusion, NPR stated.

Before her time with SVC Inc., Verma also worked for the Indiana-based Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials in Washington DC.

But it was her efforts to restructure state Medicaid programs that made her “the ideal candidate to oversee the reform of the Medicaid program and take steps administratively to give states the flexibility they have been clamoring for,” according to Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT).

Some healthcare industry groups also viewed Verma’s work with Medicaid as a positive attribute. The American Medical Group Association (AMGA) congratulated Verma on her recent appointment and applauded her experience.

“She has extensive experience in working with policymakers to transform state Medicaid programs,” stated Donald W. Fisher, PhD, CAE, AMGA President and CEO. “We are eager to work with her on continuing the transition from fee-for-service payments to a system that promotes value. AMGA members are focused on providing quality healthcare to their 130 million patients, and we look forward to working with policymakers like Ms. Verma to empower our members to continue to advance high performance health.”

However, Senate Democrats perceived some of her Medicaid work as a detriment, especially with a potential Affordable Care Act repeal bill currently on the House floor, The New York Times reported.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said Verma “would be able to give states a green light to push the very frail and sick into high-risk pools,” the national news source stated.

Other healthcare industry groups are eager to start working with Verma on industry issues, such as value-based purchasing and health IT implementation. The Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offered well wishes to the next CMS administrator and expressed their willingness to work on healthcare reform initiatives.

“As we prepare for next steps in healthcare transformation, we anticipate having discussions with Administrator Verma on a number of topics of mutual interest, including continuing the shift to value-based care delivery, sustaining the Quality Payment Program, reinforcing the importance of electronic clinical quality reporting, and expanding CMS recognition of telehealth capabilities across the agency,” the organization stated.

“We look forward to collaborating with Ms. Verma and her team to ensure health IT remains a key tool in supporting healthcare transformation.”

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