© Reuters. US President Trump reacts after delivering a speech at the joint session of Congress in Washington
By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s candidate to head the department that oversees the U.S. government’s health programs for the elderly and disabled won the backing of a Senate committee on Thursday, paving the way for a full vote in the Senate.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 13-12 to support Seema Verma to manage the $ 1 billion Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Verma owns SVC, a healthcare consulting company, and has helped redesign Medicaid programs in several states, including Indiana.
He worked in Indiana to expand Medicaid to include thousands of additional low-income residents. Those residents are required to make small monthly payments for their care through health savings accounts.
It’s a model that could influence how the Trump administration thinks about providing healthcare to low-income people. In a speech to Congress on Tuesday, Trump said the administration should help Americans buy health insurance by using tax credits and expanded health savings accounts.
Verma has worked closely with Vice President Mike Pence, who as Governor of Indiana presented him with the Sagamore of the Wabash Award, generally awarded to those who have served distinguished service to the state or the governor.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a statement that addressing the challenges facing Medicare and Medicaid will require a strong partnership with the administration.
Verma, he said, “will help facilitate that partnership and as we work to repeal and replace Obamacare, she will play a vital role in realigning the focus on patient-centered solutions.”
Speaking ahead of a preliminary vote on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon expressed concern that at his confirmation hearing last month, Verma had not answered questions about how he would address high drug prices.
He also said that while he was helping to run the Indiana state health program, his firm was being paid by companies that provided services and products to the program.
“She was on both sides of the deal,” he said.
Verma has denied wrongdoing. In a January 31 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, it outlined several steps it would take to avoid any conflict of interest if it is confirmed as CMS manager, including divesting its financial interest in SVC Inc within 90 days of the subsequent to confirmation.
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