Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, sat down for a rare one-on-one interview with Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Sarah Varney.
They discussed her views on President Donald Trump’s plan for sustaining public health insurance programs, how the administration would respond if Obamacare is struck down by the courts in the future and her thoughts on how the latest “Medicare for All” proposals would affect innovation and access to care.
A portion of their conversation aired on PBS NewsHour on Dec. 23. A transcript follows, edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Varney: Thank you, Administrator Verma, for joining us. We really appreciate it. You spoke recently about this need to protect Medicaid as a lifeline, but also not to have people be entrapped, or trapped on, Medicaid and come to rely upon it too greatly. So, as I was mentioning, we were in Tennessee recently, and I know you can’t speak to specific cases —
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Seema Verma: Mmm, hmm.
Varney: But, we did find a number of families who had been disenrolled, and then found it quite difficult to get back on. And I just wondered if there is a danger in taking this approach where there’s more frequent verification checks, a real focus on eligibility verification, that it could discourage some parents and kids who might be eligible for the program from signing up?
Verma: Well, our top priority is making sure that the beneficiaries in the Medicaid program have high-quality, accessible care, and we want to do everything that we can to improve the quality of their lives. In terms of the enrollment process, we also have an obligation to taxpayers to make sure that only the people that qualify for the programs are participating. And we also want to make sure that the programs are sustainable over the long term. I think there’s a balance between making sure it’s easy for people to apply, but we also have to make sure that we do the appropriate work to make sure that they qualify for the programs.
Varney: So, are you concerned, though, that there were a number of people, after the eligibility process kicked in again in 2017, after the ACA sort of put things on hold for a while, that there might have been families, though, that have been lost? That just don’t want to come back, or can’t come back? Or are hearing worries about the public charge rule, as well, and so are concerned about giving the government their information?