Official Eyes National Health Care Repair

Event Date: 9/22/2018

Event Recap Video

Full Event Recording

Innovation. Increased efficiency. Higher quality at a better value.

These were just a few of the health care topics covered by Seema Verma, administrator of the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, when she spoke to a crowd of some 200 on Oct. 22 at Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse. Verma’s appearance was part of the University’s Ideas Festival, which is at the heart of Purdue’s Giant Leaps 150th anniversary campaign.

Verma was joined for her hour-long talk by Purdue President Mitch Daniels. Since they had worked together before, their discussion also gave Verma and Daniels a chance to get reacquainted.

While acting as an independent consultant, Verma established her reputation with work she led on Indiana’s redesigned Medicaid program during Daniels’ tenure as the state’s governor. She was one of the architects of the pilot program known as the “Healthy Indiana Plan,” under which beneficiaries purchase private insurance policies with a state subsidy. Many consider the plan a success and a model for states elsewhere.

The Ideas Festival event, therefore, felt relaxed and convivial, particularly considering Verma oversees a $1.3 trillion budget and is at least partly responsible for the health care of more than 130 million Americans. Daniels introduced her by saying, “Welcome home.”

Much of what followed was a crash course in the history and growth of the Medicare and Medicaid systems, both of which Verma sees as over-regulated, inefficient and unsustainable in the face of an aging population.

According to Verma, the “open-ended” nature of the current system, which guarantees that states receive matching federal dollars for Medicaid coverage, means the system is “built to grow. Obamacare tells us what the bill is and we have to pay it. It’s like going to the mall with no budget. We’re experiencing explosive growth.”

“We’re putting able-bodied people in a program that was originally designed for the old, the vulnerable and the disabled,” she said. “We have almost double the budget of the Department of Defense. At this rate, by 2026, one in five dollars will be spent in health care. It’s unsustainable.”

Before laying out her vision for the future of health care, Verma acknowledged the political aspect of her job and the potentially unpopular nature of her views.

“I’ve got two teenagers at home, so I’m used to having people not be happy with me,” she said. “I’ve developed a thick skin, which is very important in D.C. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in this past year.”

Verma discussed many complex health care issues and possible solutions during her talk with Daniels. A few of her major ideas for reform included:

  • Decreased federal regulation and responsibility, accompanied by increased responsibility on the part of states.
  • Increased accountability and transparency regarding cost and results on the part of health care providers.
  • Increased competition among providers, which could encourage innovation and decrease patient costs.
  • Empowerment of individual patients through increased overall knowledge, lifelong digital record-keeping and the ability to shop for services.

Verma referred to these reforms as part of “a digital revolution in health care.”

There were numerous Purdue students in the audience, including five that Daniels called his “panel of experts.” Each one was allowed to ask Verma a question about the details of her proposed reforms.

“My expectation was to learn more about Medicare and maybe learn about how things might be changing. I’m not directly related to health care, but it’s obviously something that affects all of us,” said Paul Dawley, 20, a civil engineering major from Crown Point, Indiana, and an undergraduate fellow at the Purdue Policy Research Institute.

“This is the first Ideas Festival event I’ve been able to go to and it’s great to see that they’re bringing in some really big names for it. It’s a cool opportunity to hear what an expert like her, one of the biggest administrators in the entire United States, has to say.”

Daniels’ last words of the night were a salute to Verma for taking on “one of the toughest assignments in the world today.” She closed by reminding the audience that the United States “still has the best health care system in the world. Expensive, but still the best.”

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