The government transparency group American Oversight sued CMS Administrator Seema Verma and the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday after the agency refused to hand over Verma’s communications and ethics waivers regarding her involvement in major state Medicaid decisions that she previously worked on as a private consultant.
The lawsuit comes after HHS refused to respond to five FOIA requests the group filed last August and four updated requests submitted this January, and after reports that Verma violated her recusal from Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver decision.
As Verma’s CMS moves aggressively to green-light state efforts to impose work requirements, lifetime limits, premiums and other fees and restrictions on their Medicaid programs, American Oversight and congressional committees have attempted to investigate whether Verma has any conflicts of interest.
The Office of Government Ethics revealed last March that because Verma worked “personally and substantially” on Indiana and Kentucky’s Medicaid waivers, she should recuse herself from those cases. “A reasonable person might question your impartiality on these sensitive matters,” the report said. But when Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced in January that the state had won approval from CMS to impose a Medicaid work requirement, he said Verma was the one to contact him.
The new lawsuit is demanding the government make public all of the communications between Verma and state officials in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia—states that were clients of her former health consulting company, SVC, Inc. American Oversight is also requesting documents showing why Verma recused from handling some of these states but not others and why she was granted a broad ethics waiver by former HHS Secretary Tom Price.
“If there are records that show that Verma had improper communications in matters she was recused from, we are entitled to those documents,” Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, told TPM. “If she abided by her recusal, there should be zero or very few communications at issue.”
“We go into these things hoping we find officials acting ethically and responsibly,” added Clark Pettig, the group’s communications director. “If her correspondence simply says, ‘Sorry, I’m recused from that matter. Please talk to this other person,’ as taxpayers that would be encouraging to see.”
Read the full lawsuit below: