A top Department of Health and Human Services official is facing backlash after she asked taxpayers to reimburse her for jewelry and other items stolen with her luggage during a work trip last year.
Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, filed a request to HHS for $47,000 to cover her lost property in August 2018, according to documents obtained by Politico.
The items, which included a $5,900 Ivanka Trump-brand pendant and a $325 moisturizer, were allegedly stolen a month earlier from inside an SUV that Verma had rented while visiting San Francisco for work.
Verma wrote in the claim that the items were not insured, according to Politico. HHS ultimately reimbursed her $2,852.40, a CMS spokesman told the outlet.
HHS has a longstanding policy of paying for certain items lost on work trips, which is why she was partially reimbursed, the spokesman said, adding that the department is prohibited from reimbursing staff for jewelry.
“It’s perfectly appropriate that the administrator filed a personal property loss claim for goods stolen while on work travel and this is not an unusual practice for federal employees,” the CMS spokesman told Politico.
But others took issue with Verma’s claim.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, skewered Verma over her reimbursement request.
“During nearly 20 years in government I never once heard of a Fed demanding to be reimbursed for items stolen while traveling ― much less $43,000 worth of luxury items left in a rented SUV!” he tweeted Saturday. “How many hours did Americans work for to pay for this frivolity?”
He later corrected himself to note that Verma instead asked for a total reimbursement of $47,000. The stolen jewelry was worth about $43,000 alone, she wrote in her claim, according to Politico.
During nearly 20 years in government I never once heard of a Fed demanding to be reimbursed for items stolen while traveling—much less $43,000 worth of luxury items left in a rented SUV! And why is she renting an SUV instead of cheapo compact on our dime? https://t.co/rmn8owat4r
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) December 8, 2019
Verma, a Trump appointee, has been in charge of CMS since March 2017. The agency administers Medicare, the country’s largest health insurance for seniors.
As Politico noted, news of the reimbursement request comes months after the HHS inspector general agreed to investigate Verma’s use of more than $2 million in taxpayer money to hire public relations consultants to boost her public profile.
“Does Seema Verma serve the public or does the public serve her?” Jill Burcum, a health care writer for The Star Tribune, tweeted about Verma’s jewelry claim. She also questioned why Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, isn’t investigating the matter.
Grassley’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.