Medicare administrator Seema Verma can’t be blamed for falling victim to the fantasy that is Instagram. Let he who has not overpaid for a Vetements sweater because the power of an IG influencer seeped into your pockets be the first to throw stones. And while most of us were spending our own money, Verma just so happened to be in a position to bill taxpayers for her goofy-ass glow up to the tune of some $6 million.
That’s right in less than two years, Verma billed Americans $380 an hour to pay for consultants she hired to bolster her personal image in the hopes of winning awards that would place her on a list of powerful women and influential people, Associated Press reports.
One contractor, Pam Stevens, who’s done extensive work for the GOP, charged up to $330 hourly to pursue ideas like asking publications including “Oprah Magazine” and “Garden and Gun” to write articles about Verma. Stevens also seemed to bill at least $1,117 to arrange an interview that resulted in a Verma profile in AARP The Magazine, the report said.
The contractors were “handpicked” by Verma’s aides, the report said, creating “a shadow operation” that sidelined the communications staff of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The consultants’ work often had nothing to do with running Medicare, Medicaid and other massive health programs that the agency operates, said the 56-page report, which was backed by over 1,700 pages of documents. Verma has run the agency since 2017.
Needless to say, some members of Congress didn’t believe that Verma should be using taxpayer money to get her IG popping.
“Congress did not intend for Administrator Verma or other senior CMS officials to use taxpayer dollars to stockpile CMS with handpicked consultants or promote Administrator Verma’s public profile and personal brand,” a report by congressional Democrats said Thursday.
“Given the reckless disregard she has shown for the public’s trust, Administrator Verma should reimburse the taxpayers for these inappropriate expenditures,” it said.
Because we now live in an alternate reality where everything is defensible, even blatant disregard for taxpayers’ funds so that an appointed official can step her flossing game up, one jackass, I mean, Health and Human Services Department official defended Verma, calling the report, “political smear” by “far left politicians.”
“This is just another reckless, politically timed, drive-by hit job on a reform-driven Trump Administration official and, by extension, on President Trump himself,” Michael Caputo, the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, told AP. He said Verma “will continue the Administration’s unprecedented success transforming the American healthcare system.”
He also didn’t deny the reports findings.
Also from AP:
Consultants arranged for private meetings between Verma and hosts of conservative Fox News and editors of Woman’s Day and Women’s Health Magazine, the investigators wrote.
One memo suggested seeking to land Verma on Washingtonian magazine’s list of Washington’s most powerful women.
Another document indicated contractors billed at least $13,000 to offer Verma’s name for awards and to participate in other events.
There was also an entry for nearly $3,000 for a “Girl’s Night to honor the Administrator,” held at the home of Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief.
USA Today spokesperson Chrissy Terrell told the Washington Post that Page had no idea that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was billed $2,933 for the event, which honored, you guessed it, Verma, along with another political appointee.
“Two women who had recently gotten significant appointments, Heather Wilson to head the Air Force and Seema Verma to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — both milestone moments to be recognized,” Terrell said.
The report also found that Verma’s “consultants,” most of whom are Republicans, were with her damn near everywhere she went. One time, Verma took a trip to California, and for some reason, she needed three agency aides and four consultants, who, you guessed it, charged some $300 an hour during part of that time.
Verma does have some redeemable qualities; she once gave money to a homeless man. No really, she did. And while we don’t know if that money came from her own pocket, she did do it, according to her father.
“Her father, Jugal Verma, 77, described her as someone with ‘passion’ for her work, and sympathy for the poor. Each morning on her way to work, he said, she pulled her car to the side of the road to hand the same homeless man cash. ‘It used to amaze me,’ the Guardian reports.
Wonder if papa Verma is still amazed that his daughter spent $6 million of taxpayers’ money on straight bullshit in a global fucking pandemic.