Four House committees conducted an investigation into Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and her top aides spending and allege that Verma hired consultants that charged CMS “nearly $6 million for work that included boosting her public profile” over the course of 2 years.
“By retaining these consultants, Administrator Verma misused funds appropriated by Congress, wasting taxpayer dollars intended to support federal health care programs,” the report states.
The report was produced by the staffs of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
The Democrats say they obtained thousands of documents revealing many of CMS’s problematic billing receipts. “Verma and her top aides abused the federal contracting process to Administrator Verma’s benefit and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” the Democrats said.
“Our investigation found that Administrator Verma misused funds appropriated by Congress and wasted taxpayer dollars intended to support critical federal health care programs,” Pallone, Maloney, Wyden, and Murray said in a written statement Thursday.
The investigation found that Verma consulted with at least 15 high profile Republican communications consultants including, Brett O’Donnell, Keith Nahigian, Ken Nahigian, Marcus Barlow, and Pam Stevens.
At an October 2019 hearing, Verma told a House committee that “the contracts that we have in place are about promoting the work of the agency. One of the things that I wanted to do when we came to CMS is (to) make sure that the American people understand the things that we’re doing.
Verma emphasized that the consultants were used to publicize the 16 new CMS initiatives.
“And the other thing that we use contractors are for is when we have something that we cannot do in house so that’s one reason or we need some short-term help. My job at the agency is to set the vision and set the agenda, and it’s up to other staff members to determine whether that work can be done in house or whether we need to hire contractors.”
However, the committees’ report found that “As a consultant, Barlow billed CMS for hours that approximated those of a full-time employee while charging a rate that would result in more than double the $179,700 annual salary of CMS’s top communications official.”
The Democrats’ report also states that Pam Stevens distributed a document entitled, “Draft Executive Visibility Proposal Seema Verma,” which lawmakers claim was to develop Verma’s brand, get meetings with high profile people and get Verma nominated for awards.
The report also says that consultants were paid (per hour) and had travel expenses much more than appropriate. “Consultants submitted reimbursements for significant expenses related to CMS travel and accommodations, including for hotel rooms that cost more than $500 per night, hundreds of dollars above the government per diem.”
The committees’ investigation took 17 months and highlighted the question, is using these consultants violating federal law limiting how officials are allowed to use funds appropriated by Congress. The lawmakers are consulting the Government Accountability Office “as to whether CMS’ expenditures violated the law.”
The House committees’ report comes weeks after the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services published a report (pdf) accusing Verma of using millions of taxpayer dollars to pay politically connected contractors.
CMS, is one of the largest federal agencies, overseeing the vast Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare private health insurance exchanges.
The top spokesperson for the health department, Michael Caputo told Politico, the report is “another reckless drive-by election year hit job.”
“The CMS Administrator will continue her unprecedented efforts to transform the American healthcare system to ensure health policy innovation drives public discussion—not purposefully timed political attacks,” Caputo continued.
CMS Administrator Verma’s office and Mr. Caputo’s office did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the committees’ report.