Administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Seema Verma took the stage April 30, 2020, at the White House COVID-19 briefing to give details about escalated and new efforts made to meet the needs of seniors in the country, focusing on those living in nursing homes.
According to news reports April 25, Verma was on President Donald Trump’s shortlist along with Deborah Birks, coordinator of the White House Task Force on Coronavirus, to replace current Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. The White House has dismissed that as speculation. Verma and Azar have a history of disagreements on policy issues,
Verma has been a fixture in the daily White House briefings, which has already raised her profile nationwide as the administrator of the largest insurance schemes Medicare (for seniors) and Medicaid (for the poor), that cover more than 130 million Americans.
“I’m pleased to announce that we are putting out new state grants to support state and local efforts to nursing homes,” Verma announced after detailing several measures taken before and during COVID-19.
“The President has been an advocate of this, he has asked for increased funding to inspect nursing homes every year in his budget. But this is the first time that Congress has provided this funding. And the money couldn’t come at a more critical time when it’ll be important to work with our state partners to ensure safety in our nursing homes,” Verma said.
In addition, Verma said, CMS is going to oversee the Coronavirus Commission for safety and quality in nursing homes. “The commission will comprehensively assess the response. It will identify best practices, and also provide recommendations for how we go forward to protect our nursing home residents and make sure we are providing the best quality of life,” Verma said.
She thanked President Trump for his “commitment” to the nation’s seniors, and crediting steps taken during his administration with resulting in the Medicare Advantage program seeing premiums at a thirteen year low, and the part D program experiencing a seven year low.
Restricting visitation in nursing homes Verma said, “was a heartbreaking decision,” specially in these very uncertain times. But the virus has targeted nursing homes around the world, she indicated.
“But the President’s early action around nursing homes has saved countless lives. Even before the Coronavirus, we have been working on a strategy to improve quality in nursing homes. The strategy focused on quality, oversight, enforcement, and transparency for patients and their families,” Verma said, detailing some of the steps taken to improve transparency and reduce regulations, increasing reimbursement for labs so they could do more testing in the nursing home, a series of nine guidance documents specific to Coronavirus in controlling infections in nursing homes, among others.
Those improvements enabled the administration to take rapid action when Coronavirus hit, Verma said.
Verma’s high visibility nationally could be an indication of her growing stature in the President’s inner circle in this election year. Another thing going for her is the role she played as Vice President’s point person for overhauling the health insurance program in Indiana when he was Governor of that state. Pence is currently leading the White House Task Force on Coronavirus.
If Verma was to replace Azar as HHS Secretary, she would be the second Indian-American woman, after former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, to hold a federal cabinet level position.