After a litany of mealy-mouthed responses from Demetrios Kouzoukas and his unwillingness to address an apparent conflict of interest, the lawmaker’s withering loss of patience led her to declare: “I will strongly oppose your nomination and I will encourage every other senator in this body to so as well.”
President Joe Biden nominated Kouzoukas for trustee on the boards of three government medical insurance trust funds. It was Kouzoukas’ potential oversight of Medicare that drew Warren’s ire, Mediaite reported.
She grilled him on his salary for serving on the board of a for-profit insurance company that she said makes money off Medicare Advantage. She said Medicare Advantage plans are overcharging the government by billions of dollars and are “threatening the solvency of Medicare.”
Citing the conflict of interest, Warren repeatedly asked Kouzoukas if he would resign his insurance company gig to be confirmed. Despite declaring at the Senate Finance Committee hearing that he looked “forward to answering your questions,” Kouzoukas didn’t quite do that.
Warren had enough.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she continued.
Warren said that if Kouzoukas didn’t step down from the insurance company 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.”
Warren shared her take-no-prisoners moment on YouTube:
Mediaite provided a transcription:
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.
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.