Seema Verma, who leads the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, tried to assure a House panel Wednesday that the Trump administration’s effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act in court won’t cause any harm to the roughly 20 million people who stand to lose their health coverage.
Testifying before the Energy & Commerce oversight subcommittee, Verma said that if the courts act to invalidate the law, an outcome the administration actively supports, the “president has made clear we will have a plan in action” to protect those affected. Asked for details, Verma said, "I'm not going to get into any specifics” while offering reassurance that the administration has “planned for a number of different scenarios."
Democrats at the hearing, titled "Sabotage: The Trump Administration's Attack on Health Care," expressed their doubts. “It sounds like there is some sort of secret plan [Trump] doesn’t want to reveal,” said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the Energy & Commerce chair. “I just think it’s so deceptive to say we’re going to cover everybody and not give us anything.”
In several hours of tense testimony, Verma refused to answer a question asking how many people would lose their insurance if the law were to be struck down. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) accused Verma of failing to confront the issue head on, saying, “you have no plan, you can't produce a document, you can't give us a detail, you're skirting the issues and all we are getting are talking points."
Verma defended the administration’s management of the existing ACA system, citing the recently announced drop in premiums for 2020 and the "flexibility" provided to consumers by the expansion of low-cost, short-term health care plans that provide limited benefits. Verma also defended new rules allowing work requirements for Medicaid recipients in some states, saying it was too early to conclude that the rule change resulted in more people going uninsured. Noting that about 18,000 people have already lost coverage in two states that have enacted work rules, Arkansas and New Hampshire, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) asked, "How many more people have to lose their health care before you can make a determination?"
The bottom line: The hearing is unlikely to lead to substantial changes at the level of policy, but it does give us a glimpse at the messaging battle over health care that’s ahead in the 2020 elections.