Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday grilled President Joe Biden's pick to fill a vacant spot on the boards that oversee Social Security and Medicare's finances, highlighting the nominee's position at a private health insurance company that relies heavily on expensive and fraud-ridden Medicare Advantage plans.
During the Senate Finance Committee's confirmation hearing for Demetrios Kouzoukas—who previously served in former President Donald Trump's Health and Human Services Department—Warren (D-Mass.) said she has serious concerns about the nominee's conflicts of interest, pointing specifically to his role on the board of Clover Health.
Citing the company's most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Warren noted that the firm "receives a 'substantial portion' of its total revenue from Medicare Advantage premiums."
Warren pressed Kouzoukas on how much he gets paid for his work at Clover Health and on whether he plans to leave the board if confirmed as a public trustee for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
After repeatedly dodging, Kouzoukas pointed to a letter he received from Warren ahead of Thursday's hearing. The letter states that Kouzoukas "received compensation of more than $100,000" from Clover in 2022.
The letter also notes that Kouzoukas owns 25,000 shares of Clover stock.
Kouzoukas would not commit to leaving the Clover board if he's confirmed by the Senate.
"If you won't step down from the Clover board, then you should withdraw your nomination."
"You know, Mr. Kouzoukas, I think you think you're gonna get away with this by just not answering the question and not having any clip that admits how much money you're taking from a private insurance company that makes its money through Medicare Advantage, at the same moment that you're trying to take a public role that will influence whether we focus on the fraud in Medicare Advantage, or whether we turn a blind eye to it," Warren said.
"Let's be clear," the senator added. "If Mr. Kouzoukas ignores the fraud, he helps Clover. If he focuses on the fraud, he hurts Clover. The conflict of interest here is so big and so pervasive that there is no action that Mr. Kouzoukas can take that doesn't either help or hurt Clover, the company that pays him $100,000 a year to sit on its board and watch out for the company."
The Social Security and Medicare trust funds are typically overseen by a
bipartisan pair of public trustees
, but the positions have been vacant for nearly a decade. Biden nominated Kouzoukas earlier this year and Tricia Neuman, senior vice president of the health policy research organization KFF, last year.
Warren said during Thursday's hearing that "the position of public trustee was created in the 1980s to give the public a voice in the Board of Trustees' solvency projections for Medicare and Social Security."
"A big factor influencing Medicare solvency today is the growth of Medicare Advantage—a program that allows for-profit insurance companies to sell Medicare coverage that experts say is on target this year to overcharge the government by $75 billion," said Warren. "In other words, Medicare Advantage has a lot to do with threatening the solvency of Medicare."
The Massachusetts senator called Kouzoukas' financial conflict "shocking" and "deeply unethical."
"Not a single other trustee has ever received compensation from an insurance company while acting as a Medicare trustee," said Warren. "If you won't step down from the Clover board, then you should withdraw your nomination. And if you do not withdraw, given the clear conflicts posed by your board service, I will strongly oppose your nomination and I will encourage every other senator in this body to do so as well."
"Senator Warren is absolutely right," the group wrote. "Demetrios Kouzoukas is on the board of Clover Health, a for-profit Medicare (Dis)Advantage corporation. In 2022, he received $100,000 from them. This is a MASSIVE conflict of interest. Kouzoukas has no business overseeing Medicare."