Indian American CMS chief denies favoritism in contracts.
Seema Verma, Indian American chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has come under pressure to quit amid allegations of misuse of funds and favoritism.
Massachusetts Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy called upon her to resign Monday over allegations of misuse of taxpayers’ money to cover the cost of jewelry worth $47,000 stolen from her vehicle.
Verma, who has been overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, has denied the allegations of misuse of public funds. Testifying before a Congressional panel in October she asserted that outside contracting work was “consistent” with CMS practices.
Even CMS has defended Verma’s claim for stolen jewelry from her rented SUV while she went to give a speech in San Francisco last year. She was finally reimbursed only $2,852.40 for her claim, since the jewelry was not insured.
During a congressional hearing earlier too, Kennedy had accused Verma of enlisting known public relations contractors and awarding them contracts worth over $2 million.
Denying the allegations, the Indian American member of the Trump administration reiterated before the panel that “all of the contracts that we have at CMS are based on promoting the work of CMS.”
According to a Politico report, out of 40 contractors hired during the tenure of Verma at least eight were former White House officials or former campaign managers for President Donald Trump. They were paid $2.25 million for working for CMS for one year.
Verma played a key but controversial role in crafting the Trump administration’s health agenda and cutting waste in federal health spending.
Instrumental in unwinding parts of Obamacare and loosen insurance coverage requirements, critics see her as a major opponent of Democratic health proposals like “Medicare for All.”
Her critics acknowledge that even previous administrations have utilized contractors to aid the rollout of new laws and programs, such as Obama Care or the Affordable Care Act.
But while those contractors were hired for specific initiatives and not daily work, they alleged that a top political appointee like Verma has merely used funds for consultants to boost her own public image.
Verma, who is seen as Vice President Mike Pence’s protege, has also come under scrutiny over her dysfunctional relationship with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.
With their ties worsening into a tense feud, the two had been asked to have an urgent clear-all-air meeting at Vice President Mike Pence’s request.
Ever since Azar opposed Verma’s pick Brady Brookes as her chief of staff and proposed another woman, the rivalry has come out in the open.
While Verma has depicted it as Azar’s meddling, some others called it as “minimizing her, a woman, in a male-dominated administration.”
Axios reported recently that President trump anyway is “fond of both of them” and “just wants them to figure it out themselves.”
He wants Azhar to chalk out a plan to lower drug prices, ahead of next year’s elections.