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Analysis

Special Counsel: Seema Verma's 'Medicare-for-All' Messaging Didn't Violate Hatch Act

By Steven Porter  
   December 13, 2019

The law 'does not prohibit employees from discussing their support for or opposition to policy proposals or issues, even if those issues are politically charged or associated with a particular political party,' the OSC determined.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma didn't violate the Hatch Act when she spoke out against so-called "Medicare-for-All" proposals ahead of the 2018 election.

In a complaint filed last year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleged that Verma's messages within a week of the mid-term elections adopted a key Republican talking point and "were designed to influence the outcome of those elections with respect to competing political parties."

One tweet cited in CREW's complaint, posted on Halloween, referred to "Medicare-for-All" as the "scariest Halloween costume" of 2018.

The complaint also took issue with Verma's participation in and promotion of an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group Chief Political Analyst Boris Epshteyn, who had served as an advisor to the Trump campaign. From her official government account, Verma retweeted a message from Epshteyn that said Verma "believes that the Democrat-backed 'Medicare For All' is simply a bad idea."

Sinclair requires its stations across the country to run the segments from Epshteyn, who "reliably parrots the White House's point of view on most issues," as Hadas Gold reported for Politico in 2017.

Verma also bashed Medicare-for-All in an official CMS blog post on November 2, 2018, four days before the election.

The OSC investigated the complaint and determined that Verma's actions didn't violate the law, according to a letter dated October 29, 2019, signed by Ana Galindo-Marrone, who has been chief of the OSC Hatch Act Unit since 2000.

The law "does not prohibit employees from discussing their support for or opposition to policy proposals or issues, even if those issues are politically charged or associated with a particular political party," the letter states. 

The OSC also investigated a claim that Verma's messaging "stemmed from a White House-coordinated effort to defeat Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections."

"After completing our investigation, OSC has insufficient evidence to conclude that you violated the law by working with the White House to influence the 2018 midterm elections, and we are closing our file without further action," the letter states.

A spokesperson for OSC declined to release a copy of the letter but confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which a CMS spokesperson released to HealthLeaders as requested.

The CMS spokesperson said the OSC's decision is unsurprising. "All events and op-eds related to Medicare for All and the public option proposals have gone through the appropriate legal and ethics review," the spokesperson said.

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26, 2019: MEDICARE FOR ALL sign at bus stop in DC - sign advocating for universal healthcare - Image / Editorial credit: Jer123 / Shutterstock.com

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