Trump’s top health official dodges questions about admin’s plan to undo nation’s health care law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Trump administration’s top health official in charge of overseeing the Affordable Care Act, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, refused today to tell a key House oversight panel exactly how many Americans will likely lose their health insurance if Republicans are successful in their attempt to repeal the nation’s health care law.
Verma’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel, which oversees the nation’s health care industry, comes as a group of Republican Attorney Generals – backed by the Trump administration – are challenging the constitutionality of the 2010 law in a controversial case known as Texas v. United States.
Verma, a former health care consultant who was appointed by President Trump in late 2016 to lead the nation’s health care agency, has been widely accused of working to sabotage the ACA as the administration pushes to repeal it.
Under tense questioning by the panel’s chair, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Verma repeatedly refused to confirm reports that up to 21 million Americans would lose their health care coverage if the ACA is repealed.
She also refused to acknowledge that 133 million Americans who have a pre-existing condition, and are currently guaranteed coverage under the ACA, would be at risk of losing their health insurance if the ACA is struck down.
“If the ACA was struck down, then also the provision of the pre-existing conditions would be struck down since it’s part of the ACA, is that right?” DeGette asked Verma.
“The president has made clear that we will do everything we can to ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions maintain the protection that they have today,” Verma responded, repeating a line she used multiple times throughout the hearing to avoid answering similar questions about the impact of the Republican’s plan.
Despite her attempts to avoid providing any specifics of the GOP’s plans, it wasn’t long into DeGette’s questioning that Verma’s testimony took a sudden and bizarre twist that some lawmakers, including DeGette, later saw as a brief and disturbing glimpse into the administration’s thinking about maintaining the ACA’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
While Verma and the administration have continuously claimed that its yet-to-be-seen ACA-replacement plan will provide Americans with pre-existing conditions the same protections they have today, it seems – based on Verma’s testimony today – that the basis for that claim may be rooted in the administration’s belief that Americans with pre-existing conditions have no protections today.
When pressed by DeGette to explain exactly what steps the administration has taken to maintain the ACA’s current protections for the millions of Americans who have a pre-existing conditions, Verma told the panel that, in her view, individuals with pre-existing conditions have no protections today.
“Individuals that have pre-existing conditions today, they do not receive a subsidy – I would argue that they don’t have a protections today,” Verma said.
“So, you don’t think the ACA is protecting people with pre-existing conditions?” DeGette said in response, seeking to clarify the Trump official’s stance on the issue.
“If you can’t afford health insurance and you have a pre-existing condition, then you don’t have protections.” Verma said.
While insisting throughout her testimony that the president “had a plan” that will “maintain what works” in the ACA, Verma was unable to provide any specifics of such a plan and refused to provide committee members a copy to review.
“You’re telling me, administrator, that the Trump administration has told people they will be protected,” DeGette said. “Can you produce for me, right now, the Trump administration’s plan to protect the people?”
Verma, referring to a note that was quickly handed to her by her counsel, refused. Saying, instead, that she’s “not going to get into any specifics of a plan.”
Video of the terse 5-minute exchange between DeGette and Verma is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGQmD240bk4&feature=youtu.be