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Seema Verma under fire for allegedly spending millions on outside GOP consultants

Energy and Commerce Chairman calls for OIG investigation into taxpayer spending for outside communications, including money to promote her brand.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, has called for an investigation of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma's alleged practice of quietly directing millions of dollars in contracts to Republican communications consultants.

Pallone said he intends to ask the Office of the Inspector General to begin an investigation into how these contracts were approved, whether all regulations and ethical guidelines were followed, and why taxpayers are "stuck paying for these unnecessary services."

The call for an investigation follows a report by Politico on Friday that Verma, who was appointed by President Trump to oversee government healthcare spending, spent millions on contracts to Republican communications consultants, including funds to boost her self-image.

The communications subcontracts approved by Verma were routed through a larger federal contract, in some cases over the objections of CMS staffers.

THE IMPACT

The agency's use of outside contracts and subcontracts is legal, the Politico report said, but raises ethical and transparency concerns of such use of taxpayer funds.

Verma has promoted cost cutting in healthcare and price transparency, recently requiring hospitals to post their chargemaster prices online.

She has been a political target, as a proponent of Medicaid work requirements, cuts to Affordable Care Act promotional funding and her public stance against Medicare for all.

TREND

Having the head of CMS spend money to promote what's being called "her brand" goes against precedent. In-house staff includes a communications department of about two dozen people who handle the press, the Politico report said.

As head of CMS, Verma doesn't need to hire outside consultants to get reporters to talk to her, as the job pitches itself, a CMS staffer reportedly said.

ON THE RECORD

"These contracts are a highly questionable use of taxpayer dollars," Pallone said by statement. "Given that this agency should be spending tax dollars to ensure Americans can access quality healthcare, it is particularly egregious that it is using millions to ensure its Administrator has access to outside public relations and image building services."  

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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