Verma talks about work requirements, hospital transparency, ACA and more

Seema Verma

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, invited reporters to the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters on Thursday to take questions on the record, the latest open press meeting in a continued shift since AHCJ began calling for better access to the official.

About 25 reporters were present at the “pen and pad,” an informal type of press conference, which was open to all who were able to attend and permitted recording and laptops. Verma answered questions for about 35 minutes on topics of reporters’ choosing. She spoke on hospital transparency, Medicaid work requirements, actions the administration has taken on the Affordable Care Act, and on reducing regulations.

At the end of the question-and-answer session, Verma opened the floor to reporters for an off-the-record conversation to give them an opportunity to share how the agency’s public affairs team could improve.

In December, AHCJ objected after only five reporters were invited to a press conference with Verma. CMS defended the decision, saying she prefers to speak with a smaller group. But, as far as we know, such limited-access meetings with the administrator have not happened again.

For Thursday’s meeting, CMS invited media outlets to send one reporter, with the possibility of sending a second if space permitted, and promised to try to find space to accommodate all outlets.

Verma held a similar “pen and pad” in May, and has been making herself and her staff more available to reporters this year.

“The openness Administrator Verma has demonstrated in recent meetings with reporters is a welcome contrast to her past practice, and a sign that AHCJ’s complaints have been heard,” said Felice J. Freyer, AHCJ’s vice president and chair of its Right to Know Committee. “It’s beneficial for all concerned when officials explain their work to the public.”

In a Feb. 12, 2018, letter, AHCJ urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to hold frequent open press conferences. The agency has held such meetings, not only to allow reporters to question Azar but also to announce policies. For instance, the agency held an open meeting, which included senior advisers, with reporters when unveiling President Donald Trump’s drug pricing blueprint and officials took questions from reporters after announcing a change to the way Medicare reimburses for ambulances.

Now the committee is pressing HHS to resume holding budget previews with reporters, in which division chiefs, from the National Institutes of Health to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are made available to reporters for questions about the administration’s priorities and policies.

AHCJ is posting on its website recordings of these sessions, including Thursday’s pen and pad, so that journalists outside of D.C. can use the information in stories. CMS made the recording for the May “pen and pad” available to reporters.


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