Seema Verma in Line to be Next HHS Secretary?

Following last week’s resignation of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) amid concerns about his use of private aircraft at taxpayer expense (and continuing health care drama on Capitol Hill), the first question that likely came to mind for most health care types was this one: Who will replace Price at the helm of HHS? While Don Wright, who previously headed up the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is currently serving as acting HHS Secretary, the buzz around Washington is that President Donald Trump is most likely to nominate Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma to lead HHS. As the Washington PostFierce Healthcare, and others first reported, Verma appears to be the early frontrunner for the position—at what the Post calls “a less-than-optimal time for HHS.”

Unlike Acting Secretary Wright, who has been at HHS for over a decade and has headed the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion since 2012, Verma is relatively new to Washington, having served as an Indiana-based health care consultant before being tapped by Trump for the CMS job. One of her key projects was the development of the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), which Verma’s CMS bio describes as “the nation’s first consumer-directed Medicaid program.” For those with concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the fact that Verma presided over the expansion of Medicaid in Indiana—working in part with Vice President Mike Pence during his tenure as that state’s governor—has helped to allay some fears. As Slate puts it, at least from the perspective of ACA supporters, “Verma replacing Price would be a significant improvement.” Verma’s CMS bio also notes that she worked with Iowa, Kentucky, and Ohio to develop Medicaid reform programs.

As we noted earlier this year around the time of her confirmation hearings, there were some concerns about the degree to which Verma would prioritize meaningful use, telehealth, and other health IT agenda items. During her initial confirmation hearings, Verma had raised some eyebrows among health IT advocates when she expressed concerns about the potential administrative burdens that electronic health records could impose on physicians. As The Health Care Blog reported at the time, Verma “challenged the value of electronic health records especially in small practices and rural settings and likened interoperability to a bridge too far.” In a written questionnaire submitted to senators, however, she was more optimistic, pointing to the importance of “information sharing and allowing clinicians to be more knowledgeable about their patients.” Those comments to senators seemed to indicate more of a willingness to embrace new technologies, particularly when it comes to expanding access to care. As Trump continues to weigh his HHS options, stay tuned…

Click here to read the article from the Washington Post on the possible nomination of Seema Verma as HHS Secretary.

Click here to read the article from Fierce Healthcare on the possible nomination of Seema Verma as HHS Secretary.

Click here to read the article from Slate on the possible nomination of Seema Verma as HHS Secretary.


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