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Health consultant Seema Verma helped Vice President Mike Pence enact "punitive restrictions on Medicaid patients" while he was governor of Indiana. (Photo: Getty)

Groups Raise Alarm About Under-the-Radar, 'Extremist' Healthcare Nominee

Maternity coverage, Medicare, and Medicaid all at risk under Trump nominee Seema Verma, poised to be "the most powerful woman you've never heard of"

Deirdre Fulton

Organizers are urging constituents to call their lawmakers Tuesday and make a pitch against Seema Verma, President Donald Trump's nominee for administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The Senate Finance Committee, which held Verma's under-the-radar hearing earlier this month, is expected to vote on her nomination Wednesday.

While Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has gotten more attention, Verma could be equally influential in the GOP's quest to gut critical safety net programs. CNN described her last week as "the [Mike] Pence ally who could remake healthcare policy," while The Atlantic noted that, if confirmed, Verma "will have the power to reshape large swathes of healthcare as we know it, particularly for Americans who are struggling financially."

"Seema Verma is about to become the most powerful woman in Washington you've never heard of," wrote Huffington Post senior reporter Jeffrey Young in his profile this month.

Verma's record as a health consultant in several states, along with her responses to questions posed at her confirmation hearing, make that a frightening prospect. As the Indivisible Guide warned in its call-to-action, "Verma holds extreme positions on healthcare that would raise insurance costs for women and cap Medicaid benefits."

Furthermore, Center for Medicare Advocacy founder and executive director Judith Stein said after the hearing: "While short on specifics, it was clear from the hearing that Ms. Verma will favor private insurance models that purport to give individual choice and lower costs through marketplace competition. She is unlikely to advance mandatory core benefit packages and likely to defer to states and industry in the guise of options and innovation. Her testimony should alarm advocates who fear further privatizing Medicare."

In Indiana, where she worked closely with Pence, Verma helped craft a "Medicaid expansion program" that in fact "sought to eliminate standard Medicaid protections and provisions for vulnerable people, exchanging them for a premium-based program that mimicked private plans," The Atlantic wrote.

In a statement issued upon Verma's nomination in December, Physicians for a National Health Program president Robert Zarr criticized her as "the architect of Indiana's punitive restrictions on Medicaid patients. Her plan forced impoverished Medicaid enrollees to pay dearly for care, imposing unprecedented copayments and premiums on people with little chance of affording them; those who miss a payment are denied coverage."

"Her actions in Indiana," Zarr said at the time, "signal that she will inflict cruel and unusual punishment on America's most vulnerable citizens."

Meanwhile, in answering questions about maternity coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), posed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) during her confirmation hearing, Verma "showed herself to be stunningly unqualified to run the nation's two biggest health insurance programs and oversee the Affordable Care Act marketplaces," Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote last week. 

"Some women might want maternity coverage, and some women might not want it or feel that they need it," Verma said in response to Stabenow's question about whether such coverage should continue to be mandated for all policies sold under the ACA. "I think it's up to women to make the decision that works best for them."

But that stance, wrote Hiltzik, ignores "the most important reason for including maternity care as a mandated benefit: Unless the coverage is universal, women won't be able to get it."

Indeed, he continued:

Verma appeared to be totally blind to this reality. Under Stabenow's questions, she resorted again and again to the notion that women should be "able to decide what benefit package works for them. ...I support Americans being in control of their healthcare and making the decisions that work best for them and their families."

"Should we as women be paying more for healthcare because we're women?" Stabenow asked. 

"I think that women should be able to make the decisions that work best for them," Verma replied.

"But if the decision is made by the insurance company as to what to charge, how do we make that decision?" Stabenow shot back. "Prior to the Affordable Care Act," she observed, "about 70 percent of the insurance companies in the private marketplace didn't cover basic maternity care, and basically looked at women as being a preexisting condition. ...And that's changed now."

Stabenow put her finger on the basic fatuousness of Verma's position. Before the ACA, women didn’t have the ability to make the "decisions that work best for them" because they had no options. Americans then were not "in control of their healthcare," but rather under the thumb of insurers who could exclude or surcharge them for virtually any reason they chose. The Obamacare repeal proposals advanced by Republicans in Congress would return us to that primordial swamp.

A list of the senators on the Finance Committee is here.

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