Democrats Criticize Refusal of HHS To Release Cost Estimates for New Medicare Law
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Democratic colleagues on the House Government Reform Committee on Monday sent HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson a letter, saying that the Bush administration is "obstructing" a congressional investigation into the cost estimates for the new Medicare law, the CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 4/26). The correspondence comes in response to a letter sent Friday by Dennis Smith, former acting CMS administrator, stating that HHS will not release Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster's cost estimates for the new Medicare law. According to Office of Management and Budget estimates released after Congress passed the legislation, the Medicare law will cost $534 billion over the next 10 years -- $134 billion more than the Congressional Budget Office's estimate. Foster has said that the higher cost projection was known before the final House and Senate votes on the legislation in November and that his estimates ranged from $500 billion to $600 billion throughout the legislative process. President Bush and Thompson repeatedly had said the legislation would cost no more than $400 billion over 10 years. Foster has said that former CMS Administrator Tom Scully told him not to reveal to Congress his estimates for the Medicare legislation and threatened to fire him if he did so. Scully has said that he did not threaten to fire Foster if the higher estimates were released (California Healthline, 4/26).
The Democrats' letter states, "(Your) response does not satisfy our request. ... Unfortunately, there appears to be a concerted effort by the administration to obstruct legitimate congressional inquiries into its actions in this matter." The letter "is viewed as a last warning shot to the administration [and] most involved believe this battle will be settled in court," The Hill reports. Some Democrats maintain that "the only way to secure guarded information from the administration is through lawsuits," The Hill reports. Last month, Waxman said that if the administration did not provide the requested documents, Democrats would use the "seven-member rule," which they say mandates that the executive branch deliver requested information if seven or more Government Reform Committee members request it (Cusack, The Hill, 4/27). However, Smith said in his letter Friday, "The statute that you cite, of course, gives you no right to those documents" (CongressDaily, 4/26). According to HHS officials, if they provided House Democrats with every document requested, it would set "a bad precedent," and minority members of Congress would become "more powerful than the majority," The Hill reports. An HHS representative likened the seven-member rule to the Freedom of Information Act, noting that under FOIA, the public can ask for any information; but FOIA does not give the public the right to receive access to every piece of information it seeks (The Hill, 4/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.