Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Medicare-reform shenanigans.

Good editorial in today's NY Times about both elements of the Bush Administration's fraudulent campaign last fall to sell Congress on the Medicare-reform bill:
An Orwellian taint is emerging in the Bush administration's big victory last year in wringing the Medicare prescription drug subsidy from a balky Congress. The plan is being sold to the public through propagandistic ads disguised as TV news reports, and it turns out the government's top Medicare actuary was muzzled by superiors during the debate about the program's price tag.

Richard Foster, one of the government's foremost Medicare experts, says he was ordered not to provide requested information to Congress last fall when doubts were being raised about the drug benefit's cost. The administration denies this, but a ranking former official has confirmed Mr. Foster's story. As the bill was being considered, Mr. Foster privately cautioned that its cost could amount to as much as $600 billion, while the White House publicly stuck to the Congressional Budget Office figure of $400 billion over 10 years. The administration eventually conceded a cost of $534 billion, but only after the bill was safely signed into law.

With program in hand, the administration then attempted to rally support — and take political credit — with government-produced TV ads masquerading as news reports. Actors were hired by the Department of Health and Human Services to pose as television journalists purveying faux upbeat "news" segments about the expanded Medicare coverage. The hope is that TV stations will air them as their own. In one version, anchors are offered a script in which they promise that "reporter Karen Ryan" — an actress — will explain the details of the new drug plan.

This sleight of hand only deepens doubts about White House credibility on a complex issue. The public deserves straightforward information about the changes in Medicare, and federal agencies should not be engaging in political spin. This is no way to run a democracy nourished by information and taxpayers' money.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Capitol Hill Dems are asking the Bush administration not to take action against CMS' chief actuary, who broke the story that he was pressured to keep the real cost estimates on the program from legislators. They are also, predictably, seeking an investigation into the whole sorry affair. And the LA Times is reporting that "[o]n Monday, less than a week after it concluded that the administration's Medicare commercials and fliers were technically legal but contained 'notable omissions and errors,' the General Accounting Office said it would conduct another investigation to determine whether the video news releases constituted illegal 'covert propaganda.'"
posted by Tom Mayo, 7:06 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter