Excerpts of letter to the Honorable Robert Charrow, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

From: Senator Ron Wyden, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Finance

United States Senate, January 19, 2018

I am writing concerning possible violations by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma of her ethics agreements. Recent statements by governors representing multiple states indicate that Administrator Verma has personally and substantially participated in waivers submitted to CMS by states that were clients of her previous consulting business. Such participation appears to violate Administrator Verma’s ethics agreement, absent the issuance of written waivers for each of her interactions on a case-by-case basis. Administrator Verma’s actions also appear to violate self-imposed ethics pledge that the Trump Administration requires its appointees to sign pursuant to Executive Order 13770.

I request that you immediately investigate whether Administrator Verma’s actions comply with her agreements as well as applicable federal laws and regulations.

Prior to being confirmed to her current position, Administrator Verma headed a consulting firm, SVC, Inc., a role in which she provided services to the states of Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia. Federal ethics officials deemed her consulting work with these seven states as significant, and included a provision in her Ethics Agreement requiring special review of future matters involving those seven States. Specifically, pursuant to 5C.F.R.2635.502(d), Administrator Verma agreed to “seek a written authorization to participate personally and substantially in particular matters involving specific parties” in which those states would be “a party or represents a party.” Furthermore, the Trump Administration’s self-imposed ethics pledge provides that a nominee “will not for a period of 2 years from the date of [their] appointment participate in any particular manner involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to [their] former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

Recent statements by the governors of three states specifically designated in Administrator Verma’s ethics agreement – Arkansas, Kentucky, and Iowa – strongly suggest she was personally and substantially involved in matters those states brought before CMS. Two of the governors represent states that have submitted Section 1115 waivers seeking to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients – Arkansas and Kentucky. The third relates to a separate Section 1332 waiver submitted by the State of Iowa.

Administrator Verma’s commitment to recuse herself from work with former clients appears to have fallen short of the mark thus far, which is extremely concerning given that many of her former clients have sought – or plan to seek – waivers to impose unprecedented work requirements in state Medicaid programs.

https://www.finance.senate.gov…

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Kentucky’s new obstacles to Medicaid coverage are crueler than you could imagine

By Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2018

One can say this about the hoops Kentucky will require low-income residents to jump through to become eligible for Medicaid: If you were deliberately trying to come up with ways to throw people off the program, you couldn’t do better.

It’s been widely reported that the “waiver” of Medicaid rules approved for the state by federal officials last week includes a first-in-the-nation work requirement. But there’s much more to it, none of it good if you are a Medicaid enrollee or someone who believes that the purpose of government healthcare programs is to provide people with healthcare.

“Coverage is at risk for large numbers of low-income adults and families,” says Judith Solomon, a health policy expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Kentucky’s program bristles with paperwork requirements and Catch-22s that could easily lead even those who meet the work requirements to “trip up and become uncovered,” Solomon says. That’s because the program includes a “lockout” if enrollees fail to revalidate their eligibility every year or miss one or another deadline for paperwork: In those cases, they could be denied benefits for as long as six months.

As we reported earlier, Kentucky’s tea-party Gov. Matt Bevin, who took over from Democrat Steve Beshear in 2015, is inordinately proud of this outcome. He calls the changes “transformational.”

Another person who should be ashamed, not proud, of the program is Seema Verma, who oversees Medicaid as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Verma’s department issued the guidelines last week under which Kentucky’s work and other requirements were approved the very next day. More to the point, as a private consultant prior to becoming head of the centers, she helped Kentucky draft the waiver application that her underlings approved. (Verma said she recused herself from ruling on the Kentucky application, which deserves a response of: Pu-leeze.)

http://www.latimes.com…

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Medicaid recipients to get work requirements

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
ABC News, January 12, 2018

Rewriting the rules on health care for the poor, the Trump administration said Thursday it will allow states to require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to work, a hotly debated first in the program’s half-century history.

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said requiring work or community involvement can make a positive difference in people’s lives and in their health. The goal is to help people move from public assistance into jobs that provide health insurance. “We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome,” she said.

http://abcnews.go.com…

CMS Administrator Seema Verma is ideologically driven to make health care an individual responsibility rather than a collective good in which we can all be ensured of health care access and affordability. She made her reputation by recommending to states policies that impair access to health care for the poorest amongst us by erecting barriers to care for their Medicaid populations.

As CMS Administrator she has expanded and accelerated policies that further impair access for the poor, policies that are now being adopted by states for which she served as a consultant. Many of these waiver requests were rejected by the Obama administration, but when Verma first took office, she encouraged her (former) clients and all other states to submit Section 1115 Medicaid waiver applications and assured them that they would be favorably considered.

Whether or not Verma has technically violated her ethics pledge by this conflict of interest is a relatively moot point compared to her efforts to sabotage a program that was designed to help poor people get the health care that they need. That she has orchestrated the process is enough to confirm her ethical lapses. As she says, “We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome.”

As Michael Hiltzik says about her recusing herself, “Pu-leeze.”

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