(Adds comment, background)
By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON, March 2 President Donald Trump's
nominee to run the department overseeing 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 Committee on Finance voted 13-12 to support Seema
Verma to run the $1 trillion Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services. Verma is the owner of SVC, a healthcare consulting
firm, and has helped redesign Medicaid programs in several
states, including Indiana.
She worked in Indiana to expand Medicaid to include
thousands of additional low-income residents. Those residents
are required to make small monthly payments toward their care
through health savings accounts.
It is a model that could influence how the Trump
administration thinks about providing health care to low-income
people. In a speech to Congress on Tuesday, Trump said the
government should help Americans buy health insurance through
the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts.
Verma has worked closely with Vice President Mike Pence, who
as governor of Indiana awarded her the Sagamore of the Wabash
award, typically bestowed on those who have rendered
distinguished services to the state or to the governor.
Republican Senator 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
Speaking before a preliminary vote on Wednesday, Democratic
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon expressed concern that in her
confirmation hearing last month, Verma had failed to answer
questions about how she would tackle high drug prices.
He also said that while helping manage the state of
Indiana's health program, her firm was being paid by companies
that were providing services and products to the program.
"She was on both sides of the deal," he said.
Verma has denied any wrong-doing. In a Jan. 31 letter to the
Department of Health and Human Services, she outlined various
steps she would take to avoid any conflicts of interest if
confirmed as administrator of CMS, including divesting her
financial interest in SVC Inc within 90 days of confirmation.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu
Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)