Who is Seema Verma? First generation American to bag top healthcare position in Trump administration

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New Delhi | Published: March 15, 2017 11:13:50 AM

Seema Verma the Indian-American who bagged the top position in Trump administration is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from India.

President, CEO and founder of SVC Inc., a national health policy consulting company, Verma has worked for over 20 years in healthcare policy. (Associated Press)

Seema Verma the Indian-American who bagged the top position in Trump administration is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from India. She is expected to play a key role in the government’s bid to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Verma, who has been described by the White House as the unquestionably qualified” first generation Indian-American, was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 55-43.

She is the second Indian-American in the Trump Administration to be confirmed by the Senate, after the Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was the first Indian-American With a Master’s degree in public health with specialisation in health policy and management from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 1996, she founded her own health policy consulting firm SVC Inc. in June 2001. She is president and CEO of the company, which has worked with the states of Indiana, Iowa,

Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. In preparation for the implementation of Obamacare, Verma and SVC Inc. have worked with state insurance agencies and public health agencies to redesign their Medicaid programs.

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However, she has had her share of controversies when in 2014, an article in The Indianapolis Star raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest arising from Verma’s dual roles as both a health care consultant for Indiana and an employee of a Hewlett-Packard division that is among Indiana’s largest Medicaid vendors.

As of 2014, SVC Inc. had been awarded over $3.5 million in Indiana state contracts. Verma was concurrently employed with Hewlett-Packard, earning over $1 million during a period when the company had secured $500 million in state contracts.

The legislation that she is expected to work on Obamacare will roll back key elements of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, including its Medicaid expansion for low-income people. More significantly, the GOP bill would limit overall federal financing for Medicaid in the future. Taken together, those changes could leave 24 million more people uninsured by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday in an assessment that’s bound to complicate the bill’s already difficult path.

With a background in public health, Verma believes that she wants the government programs to improve health and not just pay bills. She’s been critical of Medicaid, saying “the status quo is not acceptable” for the federal-state insurance program that covers more than 70 million low-income people.

In Indiana, Verma designed a Medicaid expansion along conservative lines for Pence. Most beneficiaries are required to pay modest premiums. And the program uses financial rewards and penalties to steer patients to primary care providers instead of the emergency room. Critics say the plan has been confusing for beneficiaries and some have incurred penalties through no fault of their own.

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Verma defended her approach by saying that low-income people are fully capable of making health care decisions based on rational incentives.

She also said she does not support turning Medicare into a voucher plan under which retirees would get a fixed federal contribution to purchase private coverage from government-regulated private insurance plans.

Her boss, HHS Secretary Tom Price, is a prominent advocate of such an approach. Medicare covers more than 56 million seniors and disabled people.

With Verma’s confirmation and Price as health secretary, Trump has two of the most senior HHS officials in place.

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