‘Seema Verma misused taxpayers’ fund to boost image’

By The SATimes News Service

Washington, DC: When Seema Verma, the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official, went to a reporter’s home in November 2018 for a “Girl’s Night” thrown in her honor, taxpayers footed the bill to organize the event: $2,933.

When Verma wrote an op-ed on Fox News’ website that fall, touting President Donald Trump’s changes to Obamacare, taxpayers got charged for one consultant’s price to place it: $977.

And when consultants spent months promoting Verma to win awards like Washingtonian magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Washington” and appear on high-profile panels, taxpayers got billed for that too: more than $13,000.

The efforts were steered by Pam Stevens, a Republican communications consultant and former Trump administration official working to raise the brand of Verma, who leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The prices were the amount a consulting company billed the government for her services, based on her invoices, which were obtained by congressional Democrats.

They are among the revelations included in a sweeping congressional investigation chronicling how Verma spent more than $3.5 million on a range of GOP-connected consultants, who polished her public profile, wrote her speeches and Twitter posts, brokered meetings with high-profile individuals — and even billed taxpayers for connecting Verma with fellow Republicans in Congress.

The 49-year-old Verma, who advised then-Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana on health policy before joining the Trump administration, has strongly rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing in her consulting practices. In October 2019, she told a House committee that “all the contracts we have at CMS are based on promoting the work of CMS” and the spending was “consistent with how the agency has used resources in the past.”

But the probe — conducted by Democrats across four congressional committees — found that Verma surrounded herself with a rotating cast of at least 15 highly paid communications consultants during her first two years in office, even as she publicly called for fiscal restraint and championed policies like work requirements for Americans on Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

“Verma and her top aides abused the federal contracting process to Administrator Verma’s benefit and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” the Democrats concluded in a 53-page summary of the investigation, which was shared with POLITICO and was released on Thursday.

Verma declined to comment through the health department’s top spokesperson, Michael Caputo, who described the report as “another reckless drive-by election year hit job.” (Source: politico.com)

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