Medicare Chief Accused of Using Taxpayer Money for Personal Consultants

In this Nov. 29, 2017 file photo, Seema Verma speaks during a news conference in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Trump administration official in charge of Medicare used taxpayer money to boost her image, a report released by congressional Democrats on Thursday claims.

Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma reportedly spent more than $6 million over the course of two years on high-paid personal consultants with Republican ties. 

Verma’s consultants, according to the investigation by House and Senate Democrats, billed taxpayers up to $380 per hour and were “handpicked” by the administrator’s aides. 

Their work mainly revolved around writing speeches for Verma, arranging media appearances and upping her public persona.

The Democratic committee leaders backed up their accusations with a 56-page report and about 17,000 documents that allegedly contain suspicious billing statements. 

One of these documents shows consultant Pam Stevens, billed about $3,000 for work related to setting up a “Girl’s Night to Honor” Verma. Stevens, a GOP media consultant and former Trump administration official who worked in drug policy, is thought to have organized a majority of the work on building Verma’s personal brand. 

The findings released on Thursday are the result of a 17-month investigation into Verma’s “extensive abuse” of taxpayer funds. 

According to the report, Verma and her top aides “used consultants to build a shadow operation within CMS, through which these highly-paid consultants exercised decision-making authority over CMS employees and led communications efforts on major CMS policy initiatives and rollouts.”

The report was prepared by the staffs of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney from New York, Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray from Washington. 

“As the head of CMS, Administrator Verma oversees the country’s largest federal health care programs—including Medicare and Medicaid—and is responsible for a $1 trillion annual budget. Instead of using these funds to ensure that Americans have access to and are aware of opportunities to enroll in these programs, the Committees’ investigation revealed that Administrator Verma wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on the use of these consultants,” they wrote on Thursday. 

They say the consultants include a former executive director of the Trump-Pence transition team, a consultant who is recognized for specializing in setting up profiles of Republican women and several others with experience working for GOP presidential campaigns and Republican National Conventions. 

“Congress appropriated taxpayer funds to CMS to ensure that Americans have access to and are aware of opportunities to enroll in federal health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act,” the leaders wrote in the report, adding “Congress did not intend for Administrator Verma or other senior CMS officials to use taxpayer dollars to stockpile CMS with handpicked consultants or promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand.”

They are urging the administrator to reimburse taxpayers for the “inappropriate” use of funds.

CMS could not immediately be reached for comment.

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