Kerry Weems, nominee for CMS administrator, vowed to the Senate Finance Committee that he had "no intent of abusing the office for political purposes. He and Tevi Troy, whos slated for the post of HHS deputy secretary, heard numerous concerns from committee members that HHS programs had become political tools of the administration.
Weems in particular was grilled by panel members who were disconcerted with the agencys handling of the Medicare drug benefit, as well as private fee-for-service Medicare Advantage plans, a proposed rule that would lower payments to ambulatory surgical centers, and its resistance to expand the State Childrens Health Insurance Program.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he was particularly disgusted with the CMS promotion of Medicare Advantage at a briefing in May, and that the administration was trying to make SCHIP-eligible children disappear through its promotion of a study that projected lower estimates on uninsured, low-income children. Baucus added the study was recently discredited by the Congressional Budget Office.
Weems responded that he would examine the oversight of private, fee-for-service Medicare Advantage plans, which some congressional lawmakers believe are exploiting seniors, and look into the ASC payment issue. In addition, the agency needs to make sure that the new Medicaid citizenship documentation requirements are clear, but also achievable, he said. Weems also endorsed a universal healthcare bill from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); among other things, the bill would reduce premiums for seniors who adopt healthier lifestyles.
Baucus said a decision would not be made on the nominations until the nominees have answered all of the questions from respective committee members. -- by Jennifer Lubell