During her more than three years overseeing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma has talked openly about the problems she sees with government programs: They can be slow, burdensome, and miss the mark on addressing patient needs.
During the pandemic, Verma suddenly had the go-ahead to act quickly to alter government regulations and help healthcare workers get through the crisis. She required nursing homes to post coronavirus-infection numbers, allowed hospitals to create more space for patients, and required government insurance to pay for coronavirus tests.
The change she made that’s likely to be the most enduring was to allow more medical providers to see patients over phone and video, and bill Medicare for it. Before, telehealth was far more limited. Now that doctors and hospitals are using the technology, they don’t see themselves returning to the old ways.
Verma has unique authority as Medicare chief, where she oversees an agency with a $1 trillion budget that funds healthcare for 130 million Americans. The push toward virtual visits was a long time coming, but the dangers the coronavirus presented — and Verma’s swift decision-making — ignited a new way to deliver healthcare.