Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on March 14, in a solemn ceremony at the White House. After being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Indian American Seema Verma placed her hand on the Bhagavad-Gita as she was sworn into her new role.
Surrounded by her husband Sanjay, daughter Maya, son Sean, as well as her mother and sister, Verma said she cannot wait to begin the work of overhauling key parts of the American healthcare system that covers more than 100 million Americans.
“Today, our healthcare stands at a crossroads, and we have no choice but reform it,” Verma said. President Trump has chosen “One of the leading experts” on state-based healthcare solutions in the country, said Vice President Pence introducing Verma. He credited her for designing Indiana’s Medicaid system, Healthy Indiana 2.0 while he was Governor of that state, and in states like Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and elsewhere to make health care a matter of “personal responsibility and effective care.”
“The President has asked you to bring your expertise to D.C.,” Pence said, adding, “We’re confident that you’ll help restore health care decision making to the states, and in the process help make the best healthcare system in the world even better.”
Pence played a large part in endorsing Verma for the post. She is likely to play a key role in the healthcare reform of President Donald Trump, who has made a priority to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act put into place by former President Barack Obama.
Verma, who was confirmed by the Senate in a 55-43 vote on March 13, largely along party lines and after Democratic attempts to delay what was an inevitable appointment in a Republican majority Senate. This was unlike the confirmation of most other Indian-Americans in the past who have usually been endorsed in a bipartisan vote or by a large majority.
Verma’s appointment by Trump and the opposition by the Democrats in the Senate was driven not only by ideology but also by the critical position she occupies running a massive system that enrolls more than 100 million Americans.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, Verma defended her approach by saying that low-income people are fully capable of making health care decisions based on rational incentives. She also said she does not support turning Medicare into a voucher plan under which retirees would get a fixed federal contribution to purchase private coverage from government-regulated private insurance plans.
Dr. Ajay Lodha, president of The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin which represents more than 100,000 physicians, praised Verma’s accomplishments, while hoping that the problems faced by patients under the Medicare drug plan would be improved under her leadership. “Drug coverage has gone down and for patients under Medicare who are all above 65, and not healthy and needed medications – I hope she can do something for them.” Dr. Lodha said.
Verma has found out-of-the-box solutions to design state Medicaid programs in Indiana and several other states, as the Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady, R-Texas, noted in a statement. Describing Verma as “the perfect person” for the job, Brady said, “I look forward to working with her to return control of health care back to states and give patients across America more control over their own care” In Indiana, Verma, who has a background in public health, designed a Medicaid expansion along conservative lines for Pence, according to Associated Press reports.
Most beneficiaries are required to pay modest premiums. And the program uses financial rewards and penalties to steer patients to primary care providers instead of the emergency room. Critics say the plan has been confusing for beneficiaries and some have incurred penalties through no fault of their own, the AP reported.
Verma, following the ceremony, spoke of her plans to fix the current healthcare system. “Today, our health care stands at a crossroads and we have no choice but to fix our health care system. Under President Trump’s leadership and vision, we finally have an incredible opportunity to move our health care system into one that puts Americans in charge of their health care and will ensure that all Americans have access to quality health care that they can afford,” she said.