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Seema Verma, President Trump's nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is testifying before the Senate Finance Committee at her confirmation hearing this morning. So far, she has dodged a question about the new Obamacare rule, but made it clear she wants more flexibility in the benefits health insurers have to cover. She also suggested she'll be an ally for pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen who are increasingly getting blamed for having a role in rising drug prices.

Read on for the highlights of what she said.

  • Said she couldn't comment on the new Obamacare regulation CMS released yesterday to tighten the enrollment rules: "I have not been involved in the development of that rule."
  • Democrats said the rule goes against President Trump's commitment to everyone having coverage, to which Verma replied with the standard GOP line: "The president and I both agree we need...to fight for coverage and make sure all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care."
  • She doesn't support turning Medicare into a "voucher program," as described by Sen. Bill Nelson (meaning GOP proposals to give private plans a bigger role). "I'm not supportive of that, but I think it's important we look for ways of making sure the program is sustainable for the future."
  • She supports changing Medicaid to make it work better, "whether that's a block grant or a per capita cap."
  • When asked whether Medicare should negotiate drug prices, she gave a shout-out to the increasingly villainized pharmacy benefit managers. "I think we need to do everything we can do to make drugs more affordable for seniors. I'm thankful we have the PBMs and Part D program."
  • On Obamacare's essential health benefits: "What works for one person might not work for another person." For example, some women might not want maternity coverage, she said. "I think it's important people be able to make the decisions that work best for them and their families."
  • Unsurprisingly, she praised Indiana's Medicaid system that she helped design, which uses health savings accounts in Medicaid. "What we find is just because individuals are poor doesn't mean they're not capable of making decisions."
  • She'll be recusing herself of any possible conflicts of interest. The AP reports she's promised to sell her consulting firm, which worked on the design of Indiana's Medicaid reform plan, within 90 days of being confirmed.
  • Called the 2015 MACRA bill, which reformed how Medicare pays doctors, an "important step forward" for outcomes and providers.

Go deeper

Updated 3 mins ago - Health

CDC: Vaccinated people in COVID hotspots should resume wearing masks

CDC director Rochelle Walensky and top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci at a Senate HELP committee hearing. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance on Tuesday recommending that vaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public settings if they are in parts of the U.S. with substantial to high transmission, among other circumstances.

Why it matters: The guidance, a reversal from recommendations made two months ago, comes as the Delta variant continues to drive up case rates across the country. Millions of people in the U.S. — either by choice or who are ineligible — remain unvaccinated and at risk of serious infection.

The Olympics medal count

Data: International Olympic Committee; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. students fell 4 to 5 months behind during pandemic

An empty classroom in Pinole, Calif. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Elementary school students in the U.S. ended the school year four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Months of school closures and often inferior remote education eroded what schoolchildren would have learned since the pandemic began, and caused some to go backwards.