The Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, Seema Verma, paid a consulting firm $3,400 in taxpayer funds to secure her an appearance on Politico’s “Women’s Rule” podcast, according to a new report from the political publication.
Invoices of Verma’s consulting expenses, obtained by congressional Democrats, disclosed various amounts the federal government was billed by a consulting firm for the health official’s personal brand services.
Verma appeared on the podcast’s episode in March of 2019 to discuss her role as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and her efforts to reform health policy, which would reduce the number of Americans who are covered for Medicaid by the Affordable Care Act.
The Trump nominee previously advised Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana on the state’s health policy when Pence was the governor.
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The 18-month investigation conducted by four congressional committees found that Verma “abused the federal contracting process” and “wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.”
During her first year in office, Verma had at least 15 communication consultants who she paid to place her op-ed on Fox News website; to win her awards like Washingtonian magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Washington”; to arrange lunches and meetings with reporters and pundits; to appear on high-profile panels; and to coordinate her profile in AARP’s magazine — arrangements totaling more than $3.5 million and paid for by taxpayers.
These expenses were shelled out while Verma put on a different front, publicly calling for fiscal restraint when it came to health policy and narrowing requirements for Americans on Medicaid.
Michael Caputo, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ assistant secretary of public affairs, told Newsweek in an emailed statement that the 53-paged summary of the investigation is “just another reckless, politically timed, drive-by hit job.”
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“The only thing more predictable about this political smear of Administrator Verma is the fact these far left politicians won’t admit they’re angry her market-based, pro-consumer health policy reforms have derailed their failed agenda of bigger government, higher taxes and less patient choice,” Caputo wrote.
“This is just another reckless, politically timed, drive-by hit job on a reform-driven Trump Administration official and, by extension, on President Trump himself,” he added. “Administrator Verma will continue the Administration’s unprecedented success transforming the American healthcare system in a manner that ensures free-market, pro-taxpayer health policy innovations and achievements drive public discussion — not partisan smears.”
The four committee leaders of the congressional investigation said in a joint statement: “Congress did not intend for taxpayer dollars to be spent on handpicked communications consultants used to promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand.”
“Administrator Verma has shown reckless disregard for the public’s trust. We believe she should personally reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures,” the statement read.
On Thursday, Representatives Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Carolyn Maloney of New York and Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ payments to communication contractors.