Conference Coverage

CMS has plan if ACA overturned in court; Verma silent on details



The Trump administration apparently plans to ensure Americans have access to health insurance in the event that the Affordable Care Act is struck down – but officials refuse to share that plan.

Seema Verma, CMS administrator

Seema Verma

“The president has made clear that we will have a plan in action to make sure that Americans have access to affordable coverage” if or when courts negate the ACA, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Oct. 23 at a House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing. “We do not have that today. There are many Americans today, they are not getting a subsidy. They can’t afford insurance today.”

When asked specifically about the provision to guarantee coverage for those with preexisting conditions, Ms. Verma replied that the president “has made clear that we will do everything we can to ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions maintain the protection that they have today.”

When pressed for details, Ms. Verma dodged the question, first by attempting to tell an anecdote about “a 55-year-old couple making $66,000 a year ...” before getting cut off. When the question was reiterated by Health Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Ms. Verma replied, “I am not going get into any specifics of a plan.”

Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said it was “deceptive” that Ms. Verma would not provide any details and openly questioned whether a plan actually existed.

The hearing followed a partisan pattern.

Republican subcommittee members asked questions that allowed Ms Verma to highlight some of the actions taken by the CMS under her watch, such as lowering premiums for exchange plans, increasing the number of available plans and decreasing the number of states that had only one plan option available in the exchange, and other items that are focused on lowering the cost of health care.

“We’re trying to focus on actions that lower the cost of care for Americans,” she said. “If we do that, more people will be able to afford health care.”

Under questioning by panel Democrats, Ms. Verma took a more adversarial tone and tended to deflect rather than answer questions.

When pressed about Medicaid work requirement and the disruption in health care coverage they are causing, Ms. Verma had no answer, instead trying to talking about “community engagement requirements” before being cut off.

Ms. Verma also refused to address the coverage requirements, or lack thereof, of short-term, limited duration plans, which have been expanded under the Trump administration.

When asked whether plans could deny claims based on preexisting conditions, could implement coverage caps, charge more based on age or gender, or ignore other consumer protections in the ACA, she consistently defaulted to a comment that it “depends” on the plan and what they offer, without coming out and simply acknowledging that these plans have it within their power to ignore any and all consumer protections held within the Affordable Care Act.

“None of the actions that we have taken do anything to undermine the protections for people with preexisting conditions,” she said.

“Your testimony is not actually truthful to us today,” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) replied.

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