Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is accusing CMS Administrator Seema Verma of breaking her conflict of interest waivers by weighing in on several Medicaid waivers. However, public records show she may have done nothing wrong.
Before joining the federal government, Verma was a leading industry consultant and helped craft Medicaid expansion plans in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio. She also advised numerous other states on Medicaid matters.
After she was confirmed last year, Verma recused herself from policy matters involving Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia.
But Wyden sent a letter to HHS' general counsel Friday presenting evidence that she may have broken her agreement not to weigh in on matters with these states. Wyden's proof largely stemmed from public statements from state leaders claiming she was involved in the decisionmaking process on their waivers.
For instance, Kentucky's Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is quoted as saying that "Seema Verma, who is the one who oversees this for the U.S., is the one who contacted ... our cabinet at the state level."
"Recent statements by governors representing multiple states indicate that Administrator Verma has personally and substantially participated in waivers submitted to CMS by states that were clients of her previous consulting business," Wyden said in the letter. "Such participation appears to violate Administrator Verma's ethics agreement, absent the issuance of written waivers for each of her interactions on a case-by-case basis."
However, a series of emails on the U.S. Office of Government Ethics website indicates she received permission to have some contact with leaders from these states.
An HHS spokesman said Wyden knew of these permissions after he raised similar concerns last year.
"As the department explained to Sen. Wyden [on] his earlier inquiries, the administrator received a limited authorization...to participate personally and substantially in matters in which Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina or Virginia is a party or represents a party," the spokesman said.
Beyond that, "the administrator does not have a recusal obligation with regard to her former state clients under the Trump Ethics Pledge, so no pledge waiver was needed," he said.
HHS has received Sen. Wyden's new inquiry and is in the process of reviewing it, the spokesman said.