Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHANGING THE TONE, BABY, CHANGING THE TONE....Question: who wrote this email and when did he write it?

This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish. I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons.

Answer: Richard Foster, the chief Medicare actuary, on June 26 of last year.

Ah, but why did Foster feel he was in danger of being fired? Because his estimate of the cost of the administration's "$400 billion" Medicare bill was $551 billion an estimate that the administration now admits is correct. However, revealing it back then would have endangered their bill.

Is Foster telling the truth? Was he really pressured? Here's what the various actors say in Knight-Ridder's account of this story:

  • Cybele Bjorklund, Democratic staff director for the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, says: Foster's boss, Thomas Scully, admitted to her that he ordered Foster to withhold information.

  • Scully says: That's a bunch of crap, and Liz Fowler, the chief health lawyer for the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, can back him up.

  • Fowler fails to back him up: "He's a liar."

  • Tommy Thompson, Scully's boss, says: "I may have been derelict in allowing my administrator, Tom Scully, to have more control over it than I should have...."

And what does Foster have to say about all this? Nobody knows. "Health and Human Services Department officials turned down repeated requests to interview Foster."

These guys really do act like Vito Corleone, don't they? They knew their estimates were bogus five months before the bill was passed, they refused to let their chief actuary tell anyone about it, and one of their stooges basically told him to either shut up or sleep with the fishes. Then, a mere few weeks after the bill is passed, they fess up to the higher cost and pretend they didn't know about it before.

Are these guys a piece of work or what?

Kevin Drum 7:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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