Nineteen House Democrats File Lawsuit To Force Release of CMS Medicare Law Cost Estimates
Nineteen Democratic members of the House Committee on Government Reform filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles on Monday to force HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to release Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster's cost estimates for the new Medicare law, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 5/18). The lawsuit was filed in response to a letter Thompson sent to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) last month refusing to release the estimates. The letter said that Democrats "have no right" to review the information because Foster's analyses and estimates for various versions of the legislation are exempt from mandatory disclosure rules (California Healthline, 4/26). In early March, Waxman and six other members of the government reform committee requested that Thompson release by March 26 documents relating to Foster's estimates (California Healthline, 3/18). The formal request was filed under the "seven member rule," which states that because the reform committee is the House's main investigative committee, it has the authority to investigate matters concerning other committees (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/18). Further, the rule allows any seven members of the committee to demand information from the executive branch, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 5/18). Waxman said in March that he would sue Thompson if the secretary failed to allow access to Foster's estimates (California Healthline, 3/18). According to Office of Management and Budget estimates released after Congress passed the legislation, the Medicare law is projected to 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 former 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 (California Healthline, 5/4).
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that Thompson violated congressional mandates by refusing Democratic lawmakers' requests to provide information. HHS has provided eight pages of cost information, but Democrats say the data is "insufficient," the Inquirer reports. According to the Inquirer, the suit also claims that through Scully's alleged actions, Thompson "violated federal law by ordering [Foster] to not provide the estimates to Congress" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/18). Waxman said in a statement released Monday, "HHS should have released these estimates during congressional consideration of the Medicare bill so that they could have informed the debate. The administration had no valid reason to withhold the cost estimates then, and it has no reason to withhold them now." He added, "The administration's continued refusal to release this information has left us no choice but to go to court" (Dow Jones Newswires, 5/17).
HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce on Monday said it appears the lawsuit is motivated by politics, the AP/Boston Globe reports (AP/Boston Globe, 5/18). Pierce added, "This is a continuation of politics by Congressman Waxman and his Democratic colleagues that oppose the Medicare law. It's nothing more than that." Pierce also disputed the representatives' use of the seven member rule, noting that a previous court ruling denies committee members power to demand documents from federal agencies, the Inquirer reports (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/18).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.