Seema Verma, the CMS administrator and one of the last original high-level appointments by President Donald Trump still with the administration, faces her first call for resignation amid reports she sought taxpayer reimbursement for stolen uninsured jewelry during a work trip.
The first lawmaker called on CMS Administrator Seema Verma, a staunch defender of conservative efforts to reshape Medicaid, to resign after reports surfaced about her efforts to recoup payment from taxpayers for lost luggage, mainly consisting of uninsured jewelry.
Separately Monday, the acting inspector general of HHS, which is investigating CMS’s use of communications consultants, is retiring at the end of the year. Tesia Williams, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), said Joanne Cheidi’s retirement was planned. Her chief of staff, Christi Grimm, will become acting principal deputy inspector general January 1, 2020.
“Joanne Chiedi has been a respected and valued member of the HHS team since 2010, and I appreciate her selfless contributions to HHS and the American people during her 37 years of federal service,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in a statement praising her tenure.
In an interview with Politico, Representative Joe Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, called on Verma to resign Monday over the reports about her efforts to seek taxpayer funds to cover the cost of $47,000 in stolen jewelry and other personal items during a work trip to San Francisco in July 2018.
CMS did not repay the entire amount, agreeing to only $2852.40, the report said. The bulk of the claim was for $43,065 for about 24 pieces of jewelry, including a pendant branded by the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump.
“The irony is not lost on me that an administrator of health care services for tens of millions of people had decided to forgo insurance and was looking for a government bailout,” Kennedy told Politico. “That’s the entire point of insurance.”
Earlier in the year, Politico also reported about her use of outside public relations consultants; the $2.25 million contract is on hold.
The OIG spokeswoman said the report is expected to be completed early next year.
The July 2018 speech in San Francisco, where her luggage was stolen, is notable because it was the first speech where she first attacked the Medicare for All proposal currently being debated by Democratic presidential candidates. The plan was first coined by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent running for president for the second time.
"In essence Medicare for All would become Medicare for None,” she said at the time, adding that it would become a "socialized system." On phone calls with reporters over the past year, she would typically continue the thread of attacking Medicare for All as she announced new CMS proposals and changes.
Verma worked with Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana to implement an alternative program for Medicaid expansion, and is a champion of allowing states to pursue waivers to allow Medicaid work requirements. In her redesign of Indiana's Medicaid expansion program, she included a lockout provision for those who failed to pay their premiums.
Although the work requirements are currently on hold by federal courts, Verma, like other conservatives, sought to change Medicaid to a program where those receiving benefits would have to work for them if they were able, by working or engaging in some sort of training for a set amount of hours. CMS said the requirements may promote better health and "help beneficiaries escape poverty."
However, studies have shown that thousands of people have lost health insurance without any change in employment status.
Under Verma, CMS implemented the Trump administration's wish list of promoting association health plans and short-term limited duration health plans. It cut the budget for Affordable Care Act navigators—individuals who sign people up for marketplace health insurance—to $10 million for the 2019 plan year down from $63 million in 2017.