Health

/

Health & Spirit

Questions about qualifications could derail Trump's Indian Health nominee

Andrew Siddons, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

President Donald Trump's nominee to oversee health care services for 2 million Native Americans -- who already faces questions about whether he is qualified -- did not disclose donations to the Trump campaign in his official Senate questionnaire.

Robert Weaver, a health insurance salesman and consultant who was nominated in October to lead the $6.1 billion Indian Health Service, has been called "a staunch advocate of innovative programs to improve Native American health" by the administration. But some lawmakers are concerned that the administration inflated his qualifications. The questions surrounding his nomination raise the possibility that he might not have the votes to win confirmation.

Weaver's failure to disclose the contributions could contribute to lawmakers' doubts. According to the Federal Election Commission, he made seven $500 contributions to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the president's 2020 re-election campaign organization. The contributions were made monthly between March 2017, around the time that Weaver first discussed the Indian Health Service position with a member of Congress, and September 2017, just a few weeks before the Trump nominated him.

But in Weaver's questionnaire for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is evaluating his nomination, he disclosed only the March 2017 contribution, said Jennifer Talhelm, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the committee's top Democrat.

Weaver denied making the subsequent contributions, Talhelm said, even though the FEC records matched his name, addresses and the name of his company, RWI Benefits.

While Weaver told Udall that someone else may have contributed in his name without his knowledge, a Health and Human Services Department spokesperson said: "It is our understanding that this was an administrative error and Mr. Weaver is in the process of submitting an addendum to his questionnaire."

When Weaver was nominated, the White House cited his "nearly two decades of experience in hospital, mental health administration, and entrepreneurship." Weaver spent the past 12 years in the insurance business helping Indian tribes provide health care coverage for their members. But The Wall Street Journal reported that his experience in hospitals may have been overstated.

A Health and Human Services Department spokesperson responded to Journal article by calling suggestions that Weaver is unqualified "nothing but an attempt at pure character assassination."

Weaver's resume said he worked at St. John's Hospital in Joplin, Mo., from 1997 to 2006. It said he worked in "various hospital administration positions, including managing all accounts receivable, budgets, patient access and physician recruitment."

The administration provided a letter from Dottie Bringle, a former nurse and executive at St. John's, who said she supervised Weaver and that he had great leadership, organizational and problem-solving skills.

"When Mr. Weaver started at our facility he was a young man who was only a year out of high school. He rapidly became a person others respected and sought out for advice and help dealing with operational issues within the facility," she said, according to the administration.

In an email, Talhelm said that when Udall asked for a list of his titles at the hospital, Weaver said he couldn't recall specifics, but provided a list of vague "best guesses" that included a position that earned him the nickname "Bed Control Rob."

"The last confirmed director was a physician who had worked in hospitals at a high level," Udall said. "(Weaver) has no training as a physician. He doesn't seem to have any broad management and supervisory experience. And so that's just very problematic."

Some Republicans on the Indian Affairs Committee share Udall's concerns. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said that given the agency's chronic problems with funding, staffing and management, she had a lot of questions after meeting with Weaver.

"His background, quite honestly, doesn't kind of line up with what you might anticipate one would put there," said Murkowski, who also oversees the Indian Health Service's funding on the Appropriations Committee. "But having said that, you don't hold that against him, you want to find out about him."

 

No one on the Indian Affairs Committee has said they opposed Weaver's nomination. Indian Affairs Chairman John Hoeven has not yet scheduled a hearing. A spokeswoman for the North Dakota Republican, Kami Capener, said in an email that the committee would look into the questions surrounding Weaver.

"Our committee is committed to addressing long-standing issues at the Indian Health Service and improving the delivery of quality health care in tribal communities. That means ensuring the next IHS director is qualified to restore meaningful oversight and accountability at the agency," she said.

Other Republicans view Weaver's background as a boon instead of a barrier, and note that a background in medicine and hospital administration hasn't historically been a guarantee of success running the agency.

"I think you've got to get somebody in there who has a business background and who is focused on results and reform," said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who met with Weaver in November. "Clearly we've had people that have run hospitals before, and that has not changed IHS. So we need to try something different."

Given Trump's emphasis on applying business skills to government work, Weaver's business and complaints about agency may have attracted the administration's attention. Weaver, a member of Oklahoma's Quapaw tribe, met in February 2017 with his member of Congress, Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin.

"He was pointing out to me the issues that he has with Indian health services. That's when I asked him, 'Hey, have you thought about doing the position yourself?'" Mullin said. According to Mullin, Weaver laughed him off, but Mullin urged him to think about it. A month later, Weaver said he would be interested. Mullin, who chairs a House task force on the Indian Health Service, said he suggested Weaver to the administration.

Mullin thinks Weaver's business experience and desire to fix the IHS are more important than experience as a physician or running hospital systems. "The IHS system has been a mess. The funding is low. There's no standing operating procedures. There's a lot of areas that can be improved on. I feel like he understands those and can get them improved," Mullin said.

Weaver does not have an extensive political background, and before 2017, two of his political contributions were to Democrats.

But a white paper he published in January 2017 may have also caught the administration's eye. In the paper, he discusses provisions in the 2010 health care law that benefited Native Americans and, he argued, needed protecting.

However, he opened the paper by calling President Barack Obama's signature law a "failed effort" that did not provide coverage to the uninsured, was "not affordable" and had out-of-pocket maximums that made "access to health care unattainable."

(c)2018 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus