An internal investigation has confirmed that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services threatened to fire Medicare’s chief actuary if he told Congress that the estimated cost of the prescription drug bill was far higher than the White House was letting on.
The probe said no criminal laws were broken, that Medicare’s then-chief official Thomas Scully was within management rights in withholding the information and threatening to discipline chief actuary Richard Foster if he released it to Congress.
An HHS spokesman said the findings should put an end to "political squabbling." Materially misleading Congress is hardly political squabbling.
The White House put the cost of the drug bill at $395 billion. Privately, most lawmakers surely knew that this estimate was low but it was a politically doable number, and the administration was not going to let a little red ink ruin a political victory.
Foster put the cost at $534 billion, maybe even as high as $600 billion. If those figures, with the imprimatur of Medicare’s chief actuary, had been known in advance of the House vote, the drug bill would not have passed. It’s that simple. As it was, the House Republican leadership had to hold the voting open long past the allotted time in order to strong arm enough Republicans into voting for it.
The issue is not going away, if only because it’s too good for the Democrats to pass up. And there might be more shoes to drop. Although HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson promised to release all the documents relevant to the incident, his department is withholding 149 pages out of the 162 pages requested. Democrats and the Associated Press are suing to get them.
Here’s the dirty secret of the cost of the drug bill: Even at $395 billion, Congress had no way of paying for it. And some think tanks believe the real 10-year cost may be something like twice that figure.
And what of Thomas Scully, the official who ordered the estimates suppressed? He’s gone to work as a lobbyist for the drug companies that stand to profit from the costly new entitlement.