Quitting Trump administration would be ‘dereliction of duty’ amid Covid pandemic, Medicare chief Verma says

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Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, speaks at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., April 29, 2019.

Kyle Grillot | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Seema Verma has never considered stepping down as head of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs following last week’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, even after several Trump administration officials withdrew. to protest the President’s encouragement to a crowd of angry protesters.

“From where I am, given that we are in the midst of a pandemic, I felt it would be a breach of my duty and my commitment to the agency and the people we serve to leave my post. and without ensuring a smooth transition to the Biden administration, “Verma said in an interview Wednesday as the House began the debate on the impeachment of the president for the second time.

The administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which provide health insurance for elderly, disabled and poor Americans, has been one of the closest allies in the administration to Vice President Mike Pence, having worked with him on health care initiatives since he was Governor of Indiana.

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Verma declined to comment on discussions she has had with Pence in recent days, as tensions between President Donald Trump and his vice president have spread to the public. Last week, she told staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS, that she had been repelled by the way the vice president was being treated outside and inside the administration. sources told NBC News.

“It was very disturbing. And it was, it was very, very difficult to watch,” she said of the attack on the Capitol, after witnessing the events from her office window. which overlooks the complex.

Brag about achievements

In her final days as an administrator, Verma says she remains focused on ensuring a smooth transition to the Biden administration. She also tried to highlight her agency’s accomplishments over the past four years, including the successful functioning of the Obamacare Marketplace, even as the Trump administration pushed to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

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“We’ve made changes to healthcare.gov to make it a better customer experience, we’ve streamlined applications, we’ve provided over 15 state waivers that have directly impacted their premiums and drastically reduced them.” , she said. “We handled the exchanges better than the way they were handled before.”

Verma is bristling with accusations from critics that the Trump administration has also presided over a drop in listings in exchanges, after cutting funding for consumer awareness during open listing.

“We have been active and in-depth awareness raising on the health plans to bring them back to the market,” she says. She noted that she had reduced administrative costs by spending funds more efficiently. “And with these efficiencies, we were actually able to reduce user fees.”

Advice to successor

Among the things she is most proud of are the steps her agency has taken during the pandemic to ensure Americans on Medicare and Medicaid can have free access to Covid tests and vaccines, as well as the push for a greater transparency of prices by hospitals. Starting this month, hospitals are to post prices for procedures and provide consumers with an estimate of their true costs.

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“I think these are global changes, which will reverberate for many, many years to come,” she said.

Verma says she hasn’t thought about her next move. She joked that she told her husband that her immediate plans were to be “a trophy wife” for a little while.

His advice to his successor – use the work to make an impact.

“It’s one of the federal government’s biggest muscles on the health care system. And they shouldn’t underestimate the authority and power of CMS and what the team can do to influence the health system, ”she said.

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