President Donald Trump’s Choice for heading the country’s Medicare and Medicaid services held her ground in the face of partisan grilling at a Capitol Hill hearing Feb. 16, to confirm her for one of the most important posts of the new administration.
Seema Verma, a private entrepreneur in healthcare services policy in Indiana who closely worked with current Vice President Mike Pence, withstood a three-hour grilling at the Senate Finance Committee hearing.
While two Hoosier state Senators Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican, introduced Verma as a tried and tested candidate for the post of Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, lauding her for her ability to work both sides of the aisle to implement changes within former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the rest of the Senate panel was not as bipartisan.
Verma’s family sat immediately behind her through the three hours, including her parents, her husband Sanjay, also a doctor, and two children Maya and Shawn, whom she introduced at the beginning of the hearing.
“I have never been a bystander,” Verma said, adding she was “deeply concerned” about the state of healthcare in the country where doctors are “increasingly frustrated” by costly burdens and patients want problems fixed. “I want to be part of the solution,” said Verma who is credited with expanding Medicaid services in Indiana under her signature Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, which went into effect last year. Her experience in several states may play an important role as the Trump administration moves to decide on the future of Obamacare.
Indian-American physicians praised Verma’s experience and in interviews with News India Times said they were proud that an Indian-American had been nominated for the important position. “We are always proud of this next generation of Indian-Americans and their accomplishments,” said Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of News India Times and Padma Shri recipient. Dr. Vinod Shah of Maryland echoed this view. Shah commended her for a “wonderful job” with HIP 2.0 in Indiana, and said she would be helpful to the Indian-American community. “We would like to have her come to our AAPI Convention.”
“I wish her the best and hope she takes up women’s health issues like breast and cervical cancer, mental health, depression,” said past president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin Seema Jain.
Verma told Senators about her parents’ sacrifices for her and her mother being the first in her family to get a Masters degree, and also being a cancer survivor. “I am humbled as a first generation American to be given this opportunity. … My dream is to work on the frontlines of healthcare,” Verma said.
The CMS, which she will head if confirmed, had a $1 trillion budget in 2016. She said she would adopt a patient-centered approach that increases competition but drives down costs, address changing needs and leverage technology, and reduce fraud and abuse.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was unrelenting with his questions and demanded specific examples from Verma on changes to various aspects of Medicaid and Medicare and also focused on reports about possible conflict of interest issues with Verma’s consulting company SVC. Inc. Verma deflected those but her spokesperson has denied any conflict of interest issues.
Verma continuously stressed she wanted consumers to make their decisions according to their needs, including women’s health issues. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan asked Verma whether women should pay extra for basic maternity care, Verma gave a stock answer, “Women should be able to make decisions best for them.”
“As a woman, I obviously don’t want women discriminated against … some women may not want the maternity coverage,” she said.
Verma impressed some Senators with her experience in dealing with rural and frontline areas in delivering healthcare services.
Sen. Mike Enzy of Wyoming reprimanded those at the hearing from engaging in “personal attacks” on a person who has a track record and experience outside the beltway.
Verma is a graduate of University of Maryland, College Park, and has a Master’s in Public health with a concentration in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University. She founded SVC Inc. in 2001. The company has worked with the states of Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee to set up their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.