Healthcare

Issa threatens to subpoena Sebelius over Medicare slush fund

Issa threatens to subpoena Sebelius over Medicare slush fund

President Obama had a big political problem: Obamacare destroys the popular Medicare Advantage program, which offers private insurance plans to supplement Medicare.  Something like a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries use this program.  (It’s funny how free-market competition is both popular and effective when it’s actually tried, isn’t it?)

Obamacare sucks over $200 billion out of Medicare Advantage, something that would have been very noticeable through price increases and benefit reductions during open enrollment… which began in October, right before the election.

If you’re Barack Obama, you solve a problem like that by throwing huge amounts of other peoples’ money at it.  So it was that a little “demonstration project” to reward the most effective Medicare Advantage plans was suddenly inflated into a titanic $8.3 billion slush fund – bigger than the 85 previous demonstration projects combined – in order to delay the pain of Medicare Advantage cuts until after the election.  The standards for receiving payouts from this “incentive” program were lowered so much that even mediocre plans could receive a “reward.”  It wouldn’t do to have seniors opening envelopes that say their premiums have skyrocketed or some of their favorite benefits have been dropped, right before the election!

The House Oversight Committee began investigating this jumbo Slurpee of slush in May, and ran into a Health and Human Services stonewall so obvious that it’s comical.  A request for documents on May 23 was ignored by HHS.  It was repeated on August 1, and ignored again.  House Oversight fired off emails to a couple of HHS staffers, and didn’t get a response for weeks… at which point the HHS Deputy Director for Oversight and Investigation said, “I’m checking on the status and will get back to you,” but never got back to anybody.

By September 27, it was dog-ate-my-homework time.  HHS staff said they’d “been working hard to pull documents together that are responses to your boss’s request and we plan to get you what we can ASAP.”  A week later, House Oversight asked how it was going.  “Actually, we’re aiming for tomorrow,” chirped the HHS staff.  “The copying machines are working overtime.”  Tomorrow came, with no documents produced.  The HHS was so very, very sorry for the delay.  “Just checked,” they sobbed.  “Unfortunately, it looks like tomorrow they’ll get it to you.”

That was on October 4.  By October 9, House Oversight was still looking at an empty in-box, and blood pressures were rising.  “The day got away from me,” an HHS staffer apologized.  “It looks like we’ve made some progress but I should know more in a day or two.”  Maybe House Oversight should have offered to roll a cart full of copy-machine toner over to Health and Human Services.

“We’re still working on this and I do think the end of the week is doable,” said HHS the next day.  “Could we touch base tomorrow?”  No bases were touched, but on October 12, HHS said they had “fingers and toes crossed” for delivery the next day.  All of those appendages were uncrossed by October 15, when HHS simply stopped pretending it could meet any sort of deadline.  I would imagine sometime after November 6 might be “doable.”

House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) ran out of patience with these antics, and wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in which he said “your staff has run out of excuses and the long delay in providing these documents is inexcusable.”  He was blunt about precisely what his Committee is investigating:

Your reluctance to provide the Committee with these documents suggests that the documents and communications do not justify the Administration’s assertion that there is no limit to what the Secretary of HHS can spend on demonstrations, the Administration’s decision to exempt this Demonstration from long-established budget neutrality rules, or the Administration’s decision to waive the requirement for an evaluation by a statistical expert for this Demonstration, among other unsupported assertions.

Since [Government Accountability Office] experts testified the Demonstration’s design makes it impossible for the project to “demonstrate anything,” we are concerned that the only plausible explanation for the Demonstration is that you decided to utilize a loophole in the Social Security Act to temporarily cover up ObamaCare’s large cuts to the 13 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage until after this year’s election.

Issa set a deadline of 5:00 PM Thursday for the production of the documents, or else it’s subpoena time.  I doubt that’s going to get him anywhere with the lawless Obama Administration, which didn’t exactly fall all over itself to comply with those Fast and Furious subpoenas.  And Kathleen Sebelius flaunts laws that inconvenience her, such as the Hatch Act, with impunity.  She only needs to run out a few more weeks until the election.  Then she’ll either be protected by the general “let’s stop obsessing over the past” spirit of transition to a new Administration after the holiday break, or… well, let’s just say Barack Obama’s not going to develop a sudden new respect for the law, once he knows he’ll never have to answer to voters again.

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