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Elizabeth Warren Helpfully Identifies Medicare Trustee Nominee's Glaring Conflict Of Interest For Him
We're just going to graciously assume Biden meant to nominate the OTHER Demetrios Kouzoukas.
In a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Thursday, snappily titled “To Consider the Nomination of Demetrios L. Kouzoukas, to be a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Supplementary Medical, Hospital Insurance, Old-Age and Survivors Insurance,, and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds,” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren got a wee bit feisty with the nominee in her usual, extremely satisfying way.
Now, sure, Demetrios Kouzoukas is a Biden nominee, but there are reasons why we have these hearings in the first place and don’t just go straight to a vote. Things are revealed that might not have come up previously.
For instance, in the personal testimony offered by Kouzoukas, he neglected to mention that he has a paid seat on the board of Clover Health, a for-profit health insurance company that insures seniors as part of Medicare Advantage. Warren brought this up, pointing out that “a big factor influencing Medicare solvency today is the growth of Medicare Advantage, a program that allows for-profit insurance companies to sell Medicare coverage that experts say is on target this year to charge —overcharge the government by $75 billion.” For-profit insurance companies like Clover Health.
Warren then asked Kouzoukas how much he was paid to sit on Clover’s board, and after several attempts to answer the very direct question in a very roundabout way, he finally settled on $100,000 as the number. She then asked him if he planned to quit the board if nominated — but after four straight attempts to not answer that question either, Sen. Warren said she could probably assume that he did not, in fact, plan to quit his paid position on the board.
It was at this point that she very helpfully explained that this would create a massive conflict of interest, because no matter what he chose to do about addressing the problem of Medicare fraud, with regard to Medicare Advantage, he would either be screwing over the people of this country or screwing over the company he works for and the legal obligation he has to maximize its profits.
This, you see, is why it is generally frowned upon for someone who is literally on the payroll of a private insurance company to sit on this particular board.
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Watch her go!
Gonna drop the whole transcript, because it’s that good. Via Mediaite:
WARREN: Mr. Kouzoukas, you sit on the board of Clover Health, a for-profit insurance company that according to its most recent SEC filing, receives a “substantial portion” of its total revenue from Medicare Advantage premiums. How much are you paid for your work at Clover?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I’m paid in accordance with the company’s process for —
WARREN: Ok, and what’s the dollar amount? That’s what I’m asking.
KOUZOUKAS: Well, there’s a, uh, portion of the compensation that [unintelligible]
WARREN: So, you don’t know the amount that you’re getting paid from Clover?
KOUZOUKAS: I do, Senator.
WARREN: Then how about you tell me?
KOUZOUKAS: Well, there’s a portion that relates to the —
WARREN: Could I have a dollar amount, please?
KOUZOUKAS: It also depends on the year and the time —
WARREN: Ok, you did a financial disclosure last year. Would you like to tell me what you said on your financial disclosure, which you signed under oath?
KOUZOUKAS: I believe, Senator, as laid out in your letter, you pointed out to the payment that was from Clover for, with regards to 2022, and the compensation therein being in the category of $100,000.
WARREN: Ok. So, you received $100,000 from Clover for your service. And if confirmed as a public trustee, do you plan to quit the Clover board?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I appreciate the opportunity to address your question.
Narrator: He did not, in fact, appreciate the opportunity to address this question.
WARREN: Uh, it’s really easy. You can say “Yes” or you can say “No.”
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, the role of the trustees of the Social Security —
WARREN: Is that a yes or a no? Do you plan to quit the job for which you were paid $100,000 a year?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I’m grateful to the president and his team for the review of my credentials and qualifications–
WARREN: I mean, really?! You know you’re gonna have to answer this question. Is it yes or is it no? Are you planning to resign the job that pays you $100,000 a year while you are a trustee for Medicare?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, the review of my current activities and my credentials and qualifications is one that all nominees undergo and that’s one that led to the president putting my nomination before this body. I’m grateful for that and if given the opportunity —
WARREN: I’m not gonna get into why the president nominated you. What I wanna know is, are you gonna keep a job where you get paid by a for-profit outfit somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year while you keep your government trustee job? Can you answer that question?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, the role of the trustees —
WARREN: Ok, I’m gonna take that as a “yes” because I’m gonna assume that if you were gonna quit that job, you would be really happy to tell me that right now before we go into the question of what it means for you to keep this job.
Mr. Kouzoukas, as we both know, as a member of the board, corporate law requires you to help Clover to maximize its profits. So, for example, if you highlighted the amount of fraud that Medicare Advantage undergoes every year and how that fraud is undermining the solvency of Medicare, that could lead to policies that might limit the Medicare Advantage program. And if that happened, Mr. Kouzoukas, would limiting the Medicare Advantage program undercut the profitability of Clover, the company that bylaw, you are supposed to be watching out for?
WARREN: That was a question.
KOUZOUKAS: I’m not sure I understood the question —
WARREN: So, my question is, you are on the board of Clover, you are legally obligated to try to help Clover, to improve its profitability over time or at least sustain its profits. That’s corporate law 101, right? So, if you are also serving as a Medicare trustee, I just wanna be clear here. If the focus in the Medicare program is on the amount of fraud that is currently in the Medicare Advantage program, I think it’s reasonable to assume that could lead to reducing the amount of money that we put into Medicare Advantage, to putting more restrictions on Medicare Advantage, to saying we’ve gotta put a cop on the beat, maybe cut it out altogether.
What I’m asking you is, would that injure Clover? That is, would it reduce Clover’s profitability?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I think all Americans and I, especially would share your attentiveness to the questions of fraud —
WARREN: I appreciate that, but I asked you a pretty straightforward question. If you’re actually gonna be a trustee on behalf of the American people and people who care about the solvency of Medicare, then I think you oughta be able to answer – if Medicare currently, as it stands, put more restrictions on Medicare Advantage, would that likely cut into the profitability of Clover, the company from which you receive more than $100,000 in compensation annually?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I think that the question you’re asking —
WARREN: I know the question I’m asking. Could you answer my question, please? You wanna be a trustee for the American people. You oughta be able to answer that question.
KOUZOUKAS: The question you’re asking is one that deserves a greater context about the role of the trustee.
WARREN: No! It deserves an answer from you. You wanna be the trustee, the answer the question. If Medicare cut what goes into Medicare Advantage, would that hurt Clover’s profitability? That’s not a hard question. And in fact, Clover has already pretty much answered that in its public documents. So, could you give an answer to that, please?
KOUZOUKAS: I think, Senator, what’s important to focus on here —
WARREN: I know what’s important to focus on here. That’s why I’m here, is to ask the questions that are important to focus on. Could you answer my question, please?
KOUZOUKAS: Yes, Senator. I think that, if confirmed, Dr. Newman and I would be an outside set of eyes and ears —
WARREN: That is not my question. Can you answer my question or are you just flatly refusing?
KOUZOUKAS: Senator, I’d be delighted to —
WARREN: Then answer my question!
KOUZOUKAS: And I think the question is one that is, in the context of —
WARREN: No! It’s a question that’s a straight financial question. You know, Mr. Kouzoukas, I think you think you’re gonna get away with this by just not answering the question and not having any clip that admits how much money you’re taking from a private insurance company that makes its money through Medicare Advantage, at the same moment that you’re trying to take a public role that will influence whether we focus on the fraud in Medicare Advantage, or whether we turn a blind eye to it.
Let’s be clear. If Mr. Kouzoukas ignores the fraud, he helps Clover. If he focuses on the fraud, he hurts Clover. The conflict of interest here is so big and so pervasive that there is no action that Mr. Kouzoukas can take that doesn’t either help or hurt Clover, the company that pays him $100,000 a year to sit on its board and watch out for the company. And there is no waiver that can change that fact. This kind of conflict is shocking and it is deeply unethical. Not a single other trustee has ever received compensation from an insurance company while acting as a Medicare trustee.
And if you won’t step down from the Clover board, then you should withdraw your nomination. And if you do not withdraw, given the clear conflicts posed by your board service, I will strongly oppose your nomination and I will encourage every other senator in this body to do so as well.
I know there are gonna be some people who will feel a little huffy about Warren straight up homiciding a Biden nominee like that (and possibly about me writing it up) because “Democracy is at stake!” — and trust me, I get it. But she’s doing Biden a favor here, because this is a situation that could go very wrong down the road, what with that very glaring conflict of interest and what have you. In fact, she’s doing Kouzoukas a favor. This way, he can pick which board he would like to be on and avoid any impropriety. Everyone wins! Especially me, because I really enjoy watching Elizabeth Warren absolutely smash for-profit health insurance guys.
We’re not Republicans. When we love people, we tell them they have spinach in their teeth. We don’t let them walk around like that all day and then claim it was 5D chess.