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Committee vote tied for Seema Verma confirmation due to proxy votes

Democrats say the nominee did not give many specifics in her survey answers.

Susan Morse, Associate Editor

In a vote not declared as final, Senate Finance Committee members Wednesday morning cast a 9-9 vote, mostly along party lines and will have to hold another vote on Seema Verma's nomination to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Many committee members were absent from the vote due to other Senate business. The committee has rescheduled what it calls an open executive session to vote on Verma's nomination at 1:49 p.m., Thursday, March 2.

The vote is expected to be favorable, which would send her nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.

Adding in proxy votes for Verma Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee cast 15 votes in favor of her nomination, and 11 against.

However, proxy votes do not count, said Chairman Orrin Hatch.

During the short hearing, two Democrats spoke against Verma's nomination, Ranking Member Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

[Also: In questionnaire, Seema Verma explains dual role working for private company, state of Indiana]

Wyden said that during Verma's hearing before the committee on Feb. 16, she did not answer specific questions. Wyden then asked her to give answers in writing.

"Answers to the written questions were actually worse than what we heard at the committee hearing," Wyden said Wednesday. "What we got is what I'm starting to call healthcare happy talk, because there's just no content there."

Verma doesn't have a lot of background dealing with Medicare, or on payment models with physicians,  he said.

Wyden said the committee is left to believe that she shares the views of her new boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who wants to cut Medicaid to the bone and put insurance companies back in the business of discriminating against consumers who have preexisting conditions, he said.

Wyden also questioned past conflict of interest concerns based on Verma working at the same time for her health policy consulting company SVC where she hired vendors for state contracts, while also serving as an advisor to the state on its Healthy Indiana plan for Medicaid.

Cantwell said she had concerns that under Verma and Republicans, money for the Medicaid program would move towards block grants to states and imposing a per beneficiary cap, leaving a funding gap burden for the states.

Hatch said Verma had vast experience working with state governments and had the knowledge and temperament for the job.

"I think she's a highly qualified nominee," Hatch said.

CMS processes over a billion healthcare claims a year and has a trillion-dollar budget. It is the world's largest health insurer, Hatch said.

One Democrat, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, cast a yes vote for Verma by proxy.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse

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