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Trump's chief of Medicare discusses 'Medicare for All,' Obamacare and drug prices in Chicago

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHICAGO -- As the nation inches closer to the 2020 presidential election, issues with the U.S. health care system are moving into the spotlight.

At stake: the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare; proposals to expand "Medicare for All"; and ideas to target high drug prices. They're all topics sure to spark fierce debate in coming months.

The Tribune sat down with Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and an appointee of President Donald Trump, to discuss those issues Monday. Verma was in Chicago to speak at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association.

Verma opposes Medicare for All, the idea of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, and the administration said earlier this year it supports a Texas judge's ruling that Obamacare is unconstitutional. The administration also has taken a number of somewhat controversial steps toward attacking drug prices.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The doctors who support Medicare for All say it would allow doctors and hospitals to spend less money on administration because they wouldn't be dealing with multiple insurance companies. What are your thoughts on that argument?

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A: One of the things I hear a lot is we should go to Medicare for All because of the lower administrative costs. The reality is we're not spending enough on administration within Medicare. There's a lot of bureaucracy that goes on with the Medicare program in terms of access to technology, protecting taxpayers against fraud and abuse and it's because we haven't made those investments in administering the program like you would see in the private sector.

The main issue with Medicare for All and having the government take over the entire program, is that we're not going to see savings. It's actually going to cost more, which means taxpayers are going to pay more, and when they're paying more, that's going to lead to rationing of care and problems with access to care.

Q: According to some surveys, most Americans support a government-run health insurance system. How do you respond to that kind of public opinion?

A: When you dig a little bit deeper into those surveys and people understand that it means that they're going to be stripped of their private coverage, that they're not going to be able to make choices, that innovation is going to be impacted, that they may have longer wait times -- when you put all those pieces together, Americans are not supportive of that.

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