March 2004
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Day March 31, 2004

Even more secretiveness about Medicare…

This executive privilege stuff is getting old. Today, the White House refused to allow their chief health policy advisor, Douglas Badger, to testify in front of Ways and Means tomorrow. Naturally, the spokesman cited the need to “preserve the White House’s ability to get the best information possible and to speak candidly.”

The issue, of course, is that Ways and Means is investigating the fact that the Medicare prescription-drug benefit was sold to Congress as costing $395 billion, while the true costs seem to be closer to $511 billion. Naturally, that’s $116 billion we don’t have, so it just adds to the deficit estimates. So, you can imagine that Ways and Means is pretty interested in whether (a) this is an honest mistake and the original estimates were simply wrong, or (b) the Administration knew the real cost estimate and lowballed it to pass the bill.

And, in a pattern which is looking sickeningly familiar, it looks like option B is the likely one. It’s been reported that former Medicare administrator Scully threatened to fire Richard Foster (Medicare’s chief actuary) if he revealed the higher estimate to Congress. This threat counters a long-standing tradition that Congress has had free access to Foster’s estimates.

When Foster testified last week in front of Ways and Means, he testified that Scully, Douglas Badger, and other White House officials knew about the higher estimates. Foster doesn’t know, however, whether Bush was given the estimates. So, the Ways and Means committee is now trying to get Badger’s testimony on this, in the usual game of “Did Bush Know This Before Saying Something Else Publicly?”

And the White House is giving its by-now-typical response: you can’t ask our people questions, it’s executive privilege.

Sickening abuse of power and lack of accountability, is what it is. I hope Ways and Means gets serious about cracking this one.