POLITICS

Sebelius stonewalling lawmakers about project that hides Obamacare cuts to Medicare

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has ignored congressional inquiries about an expensive program, which the Government Accountability Office recommended she cancel, that hides Obamacare cuts to Medicare Advantage until after the presidential election.

HHS has spent $8.3 billion on a demonstration project that, in theory, “test[s] whether a tiered bonus structure would produce better results” by providing bonuses to insurance companies.

“The G.A.O. said the project ‘dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations’ in its impact on the budget, but is so poorly designed that researchers could not tell whether the bonus payments led to improved care,” The New York Times reported in April.

The GAO researchers told Congress the program should be stopped — it has never called for the cancellation of a demonstration program before — but Sebelius is unresponsive.

“After the Committee’s hearing on the Demonstration, we sent you a letter on August 1, 2012, asking for more detailed information about the Demonstration,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote Sebelius today in a letter co-authored by Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla. “We requested a response by August 13, 2012, but six weeks later we still have not received one.

The Washington Examiner asked HHS why Sebelius had not answered the first letter from the House investigators, but HHS did not immediately respond.

The oversight committee says that “The $8.3 billion spent through the extralegal project is enough to offset 71% of Obamacare’s cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program set to take place before the November elections.”

Issa and Lankford accused Sebelius of trying to help President Obama stay in the White House. “The Committee is concerned that the only plausible explanation is that, realizing the political danger of the law’s large cuts to Medicare Advantage during an election year, you decided to utilize a loophole in the Social Security Act to implement a temporary bandage that would cover up PPACA’s large cuts to the 13 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage,” they wrote on August 1.

Sebelius will be campaigning with the president this weekend in New Hampshire. Two weeks ago, the Office of Special Counsel faulted her for violating the Hatch Act by campaigning for Obama during an official event that was paid for by taxpayers. The Democratic National Committee reimbursed HHS for the event after Sebelius made an unscripted call for voters to back the president, and HHS retroactively classified the trip as a political one.

 

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