Capitol Correspondence - 04.08.19

Catching a Second Wind: News about HHS Key Challenges on Consultants, ACA Continues

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We are sharing two stories as a follow-up to this ANCOR Capitol Correspondence story from last week, which discussed challenges facing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its agency the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). These stories show the broader policy and political climate in which the nation’s top health policy-makers operate, which in turn can help advocates understand what drives Administration priorities in the near future.

On the public and Congressional scrutiny surrounding CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s contracts with communications consultants: Continuing its reporting on this topic, Politico shared that the “ Trump administration’s health department is suspending contracts with several GOP-connected communications firms, according to four people with knowledge of the situation, days after a POLITICO report revealed the existence of the contracts.


The move to suspend the contracts came one day before HHS Secretary Alex Azar is scheduled to testify before a Senate appropriations panel, where he is likely to be questioned about them.”

Politico Pro further reported that: “The HHS inspector general today told Democratic lawmakers that his office is probing CMS’ communications contracts with GOP-linked firms following a POLITICO report.

OIG has already “taken preliminary steps to look into the matter,” Inspector General Daniel Levinson wrote to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who requested the probe last Friday, hours after the POLITICO report revealing the existence of the contracts.

Levinson said his office would further review the questions raised by Democrats, including whether CMS Administrator Seema Verma played a role in steering the contracts.


The OIG probe was also requested by House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray.”

On HHS’ health policy-making given the Administration’s new legal position of not defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in court: As shared by Politico Pro: “Testifying in front of a Senate appropriations panel, the HHS secretary said he told his staff to implement the ACA “faithfully and fully across the board,” regardless of the Justice Department’s current position.

‘We have not and will not make any changes to how we administer the Affordable Care Act in light of the litigation,’ Azar testified. See video. Azar reportedly wasn’t in favor of the Justice Department’s new stance that the law should be fully struck down.

… Azar was being quizzed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — who dismissed the GOP-backed lawsuit as a ‘pretty far-fetched case in my opinion.’”