Health and Human Services Dept. defends Medicare chief over stolen jewelry claim

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma listens to criticism from Democrats as she testifies before the House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as the panel examines the effect of the Trump Administration’s policies on health care, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government on Monday defended a top Trump administration health official who sought reimbursement from taxpayers of $47,000, reportedly including a $5,900 Ivanka Trump-brand pendant, for items stolen during a work-related trip.

Seema Verma, who runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, ultimately received only $2,852.40, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

HHS said in a statement that it was “perfectly appropriate” for Verma to file the loss claim, which covered clothing, jewelry and other items in her luggage that were stolen while she was giving a speech in San Francisco in July 2018.

The department said she was partially reimbursed under a government policy that provides coverage at a “discounted rate” for certain items based on their age and condition, but it does not reimburse for jewelry.

Politico first reported Saturday that Verma had submitted the reimbursement claim. Citing department documents it had obtained, Politico said her tally included $43,065 for about two dozen pieces of jewelry, including the Ivanka Trump-brand pendant made of gold, prasiolite and diamonds.

Verma also requested reimbursement for about $2,000 worth of stolen clothes and another $2,000 to cover the cost of other lost possessions, including $325 for moisturizer and $349 for noise-canceling headphones.

The department said that after Verma had reported stolen baggage while on duty, HHS counsel instructed her to file a claim and “include a full inventory” of all the items in her bags.

HHS said Monday that filing a loss claim in this manner “is not an unusual practice for federal employees.”

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