KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

CMS Nominee Avoids Getting Pinned Down On Specifics About Medicaid, Drug Prices

During her confirmation hearing, lawmakers also grilled health care consultant and CMS nominee Seema Verma over her potential conflicts of interest.

The New York Times: Trump Health Pick Says Medicaid Needs A Major Overhaul
President Donald Trump's pick to run the government's major health insurance programs said Thursday that Medicaid needs a full overhaul but she doesn't support turning Medicare into a "voucher" plan. Indiana health care consultant Seema Verma testified before the Senate Finance Committee on her nomination to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. The $1 trillion agency oversees programs that cover about 1 out of 3 Americans. (2/16)

Indianapolis Star: Pick To Head Medicare, Medicaid Gives Few Policy Views
Verma resisted efforts by Democrats, and some Republicans, to take positions on other potential changes including: Raising Medicare's eligibility age and requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Changing the minimum benefits health plans must cover. Capping the amount of money states receive for their Medicaid programs. (Groppe, 2/16)

The Hill: CMS Nominee Breezes Through Confirmation Hearing 
Republicans have long wanted to repeal ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion and overhaul the way the program operates, and they hope Verma will be the one to help them do it. Some options Republicans support include block grants or per capita caps. But she declined to say Thursday whether she would support either of those reforms. "We can do a better job than what we have today in the [Medicaid] program," Verma said. (Hellmann, 2/16)

Politico Pro: Verma Endorses Medicaid Overhaul In Confirmation Hearing
“I’m endorsing the program being changed to make it better,” said Verma, who appears to be headed toward confirmation after a nearly four-hour hearing. “Whether that’s a block grant or per-capita cap, there are many ways we can get there, but at the end of the day the program isn’t working as it should.” (Cancryn, 2/16)

Modern Healthcare: CMS Nominee Wants To Protect States And Rural Providers, Opposes Vouchers For Medicare 
Verma told the Senate Finance Committee that one of her first priorities will be re-assessing a rule issued under the Obama administration that required states to more vigorously supervise the adequacy of plans' provider networks and encouraged states to establish quality rating systems for health plans. Verma said she wanted to determine whether the rule would burden states. (Dickson, 2/16)

Reuters: Trump's Pick To Lead Health Agency Calls EpiPen Issue 'Disturbing'
U.S. President Donald Trump's choice to lead an important health agency said on Thursday that the way pharmaceutical companies classify products as generic or branded needs to be reviewed in order to help hold down government spending, as she cited Mylan NV's EpiPen emergency allergy treatment. Seema Verma, Trump's nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), did not answer questions about whether the U.S. government should negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. (Cornwell, 2/16)

Stat: Pressed On Drug Prices, Nominee To Head Medicare And Medicaid Praises Competition
As Democrats pressed her on Trump’s support for drug-price negotiations under Medicare Part D during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Verma didn’t let herself get pinned down. “I’m thankful that we have the (pharmacy benefit managers) and the Part D program performing that negotiation on the behalf of seniors,” Verma said, asked repeatedly about her stance by Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, both Democrats. (Farcher, 2/16)

Morning Consult: CMS Nominee Verma Supports Making Maternity Coverage Optional
Seema Verma, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on Thursday that insurers should not have to provide maternity coverage, as is now required under the Affordable Care Act. Asked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) at her confirmation hearing, Verma said women should be able to choose between health plans that offer maternity coverage and others that do not. Under Obamacare, all health plans are required to provide maternity coverage. (Reid, 2/16)

CQ Roll Call:  Senators Press CMS Nominee On Medicaid, Drug Costs At Hearing
The largely friendly hearing was markedly different from the one Finance held last month for Verma’s likely boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Democrats vigorously opposed Price due in part to his positions on federal entitlement programs and his active investing in health care stocks while serving as an influential lawmaker. (Young, 2/16)

McClatchy: Medicaid Nominee Seema Verma Won’t Discuss New Proposals For Obamacare 
The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed cutting the sign-up period for marketplace enrollment in half. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the move could reduce program enrollment. Verma said she would have to review the implications of the proposal before she could comment on the possible effects. Wyden also expressed concerns about Verma’s dual role as a Medicaid consultant for Indiana and other states while she was under contract to several large Medicaid contractors. (Pugh, 2/16)

CNN: Trump Pick To Head Medicare And Medicaid Grilled On Obamacare Repeal
[Sen Orrin] Hatch asked Verma whether there were any conflicts of interests that lawmakers should be aware of -- a question that appeared to reflect numerous ethics concerns that arose during Price's confirmation process. Verma said she would recuse herself from any matter that would present potential conflict. Later in the hearing, she shared that the Office of Government Ethics had advised her against participating in any issues related to mental health services because her husband is a psychiatrist. (Lee and Luhby, 2/16)

The Washington Post: Medicaid Exposes Rifts Within The GOP Over The Program’s Future After The ACA
As congressional Republicans move from talking points to details of how to abolish the Affordable Care Act, behind-the-scenes jockeying over the future of Medicaid demonstrates the delicate trade-offs the GOP faces in trying to steer health policy in a more conservative direction. For years, many Republicans have railed against the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which has extended coverage to about 11 million people. But now that they have the political power to reverse those gains, internal disagreements have emerged. Some lawmakers want to preserve the federal money their states are getting under the expansion. Others argue that part of that money should be shifted to states that did not broaden their programs — or used for other purposes. (Eilperin, Goldstein and Snell, 2/16)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.