Democrats Press for More Probes Into Medicare Actuary’s Claims
Democrats are pressing for more inquiries into CMS chief actuary Richard Foster's allegations that the Bush administration was aware of his analysis that the Medicare legislation would exceed its target spending goal and sought to withhold the estimates, CQ Today reports (Schuler, CQ Today, 3/26). 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 estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. Foster has said that the higher cost projection was known before the final House and Senate votes on the legislation in November but that CMS administrator Tom Scully told him, "We can't let that get out." In an e-mail to colleagues at CMS, Foster indicated he believed he might lose his job if he revealed his cost estimates for the Medicare legislation. Scully has said that he did not threaten to fire Foster if the higher estimates were released. Scully also said that he "curbed Foster on only one specific request" made by Democrats at the time of the first House vote on the Medicare bill. Last week, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson requested that the department's Office of Inspector General look into the issue, and on Thursday, 18 Senate Democrats asked the General Accounting Office to look into Foster's allegations. On Wednesday, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) sent Attorney General John Ashcroft a letter requesting a Department of Justice investigation into whether Bush administration officials violated two federal criminal laws prohibiting the withholding of certain information from Congress (California Healthline, 3/25).
Some Democrats on the House Means and Ways Committee have requested that Scully appear before them to respond to Foster's allegations, CQ Today reports. Democrats said that committee stipulations allow them to call on additional witnesses to testify. Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee also have sent committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a letter requesting that the committee hold a hearing on the reasons that Congress did not receive OMB's estimates. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the committee's ranking Democratic member, did not sign the letter. Grassley's spokesperson Jill Gerber said, "Grassley is still considering the request to hold a hearing on the Scully-Foster affair" (CQ Today, 3/26).
While President Bush had hoped that the Medicare law would be "one of the crowning achievements" of his administration, "so far it has turned out to be one of the messiest policies, being attacked on several fronts," the Washington Times reports. According to the Times, Republicans say that the "multiple attacks" are Democrats' political attempts to "distract from the fact that Republicans delivered on the long-standing promise to create a Medicare prescription drug benefit." However, Democrats are "working hard to make sure their charges stick," and polls so far indicate that they are "doing a good job of thrashing the new benefit package," the Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 3/28).
Several broadcast programs included reports related to Medicare:
- CNN's "On the Story": The segment reports on Foster's analysis that the Medicare legislation would exceed its target spending goal (Quijano, "On the Story," CNN, 3/27). The complete transcript is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment reports on beneficiaries' skepticism about Medicare prescription drug discount cards. The segment includes comments from Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, and Thompson (Kur, "Nightly News," NBC, 3/27). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- PBS' "Washington Week": Wall Street Journal National Political Editor John Harwood discusses the Medicare trustees' report that the program's hospital trust fund will be insolvent by 2019 (Harwood, "Washington Week," PBS, 3/26). Complete video of the segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- WAMU's "Diane Rehm Show": A panel of guests in the first hour of the program will discuss the Medicare trustees' report. Guests on the program will include Edward Kaleta, chair of the Employers' Coalition on Medicare; Robert Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation; Marilyn Moon, health program director of the American Institutes for Research; and John Palmer, a public trustee for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds and an economist at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University (Rehm, "Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 3/29). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
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