The final confirmation vote on Seema Verma's nomination is scheduled for March 13 (AFP).
Indian-American Seema Verma is close to being appointed as the head of the two largest public health insurance programmes in the United States. Ms Verma is President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
A bitterly divided US Senate voted 54-44, mostly on party lines, to end the debate on her nomination. The final confirmation vote on Ms Verma's nomination has been scheduled for Monday evening, March 13.
The Senate vote to end the debate came moments after the White House blamed Democratic lawmakers for blocking nomination for the top health care position.
"She's unquestionably and uniquely qualified for her position, and especially now that health reform is at the top of the President's agenda, it's time to get her in place. This delay by Senate Democrats at this critical time is unacceptable," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily news conference.
Ms Verma, President, CEO and founder of SVC Inc., a national health policy consulting company, has worked for over 20 years in healthcare policy. She has redesigned Medicaid programs in several states, including Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Kentucky.
"She's worked with governors' offices, state Medicaid agencies, state health departments, state departments of insurance, as well as private companies and foundations," Sean Spicer said.
Top Democratic senators opposed her nomination on the Senate floor. "I oppose the nomination of Seema Verma to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services," said Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The Senator from California alleged that Ms Verma made troubling statements in her confirmation hearings, stating that she thought insurance companies should not be required to cover maternity care.
"Ensuring coverage of essential health services is a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act, and we can't go back to the days when insurance companies offered consumers plans that didn't cover care when they needed it," she said.
"Seema Verma does not have the experience to lead our most important health care programs that thousands of Nevadans rely on. I voted no," said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.
"In Seema Verma, Trump has nominated another candidate who is both unqualified and reflects an extreme ideology for the department she will oversee," Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said. "Her non-answers and Medicaid positions are insulting to the millions who rely on Medicare & Medicaid for," said Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey.
If confirmed, Seema Verma would be the second Indian-American to be in charge of a top administration post, after Nikki Haley who is now the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Battling in favour of Ms Verma, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asserted, "Seema Verma has a deep health policy background. She's a reformer with a proven record of success. And not only does she have an unparalleled grasp of the complex fiscal and policy challenges facing the agencies she'll be charged with overseeing, she also understands the states and consumers she will be serving."
"She's particularly well-qualified to lead this agency. She has a proven record of success. She's got the skill and the drive to make positive reforms too. I can hardly think of anyone better for the job. I urge colleagues to join me in voting to advance her nomination today," Mr McConnell said.