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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

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

3 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.