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March 20, 2004

Withheld Medicare Details

In a classic Friday information dump, the Bush administration allowed Richard Foster, the chief Medicare actuary, to release the data to Congress that he had previously been illegally told to withhold. And the details show why they didn't want it released:

  • Instead of $14 billion in corporate welfare being paid to private health plans, the total will be $46 billion over ten years.
  • 32 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will be pushed into private managed care plans by 2009.
  • Traditional medicare will be systematically undermined through cutting payments to doctors-- "payments to doctors under Medicare's fee schedule will decline each year from 2006 to 2012, while spending for inpatient hospital services and skilled nursing homes under the traditional government-run program will decline in 2006 and 2007."

    The story has the bottom line of the effects of the lies told by the Bush adminstration about the effects of the bill:

    if the estimates of higher costs had been known last year, they would have given ammunition to Democrats and other critics who said the bill was lavishing money on insurance companies at the expense of the traditional Medicare programs.

    Mr. Foster said he withheld the cost estimates and other information from Congress last year on instructions from Thomas A. Scully, who was then administrator of the Medicare program.

    Mr. Foster, who has been a government actuary for more than 30 years, said Mr. Scully had threatened to fire him if he gave the data to Congress.

    Forgot the usual petty scandals. I've said I thought the Plame Affair was pretty minor. The Memogate scandal on judges is slightly worse, but nasty partisan spying is still not on the scale of lies that fundamentally distort decisions over how we spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on our Medicare system.

    Someone should go to jail. Soon.

    A federal law stipulates that officials must not try to prevent federal employees from having "oral or written communication or contact" with any member of Congress on matters relating to the employees' duties.

    On Thursday, a group of 18 Democratic senators led by Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey asked the comptroller general to investigate whether Mr. Foster had been muzzled in violation of this law...

    An earlier Medicare law, adopted in 1997 at the behest of Republicans, explicitly protects the actuary's independence.

    And one problem for the Bush administration is that many conservatives who voted against the bill are as pissed as the Democrats that they were lied to about the costs of the bill.

    So hopefully someone will be going to jail for this lie, even if the lies about WMDs may never reach a prosecutor.

    Posted by Nathan at March 20, 2004 07:37 AM