Admitting Real Costs Could Have Killed Drug Bill

Some House conservatives say they believe President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug bill would not have passed if the real estimated cost had been known.

Their comments came as House Democrats revived accusations that former Medicare Administrator Tom Scully threatened to fire Medicare’s chief actuary last June if he shared with Congress a report that showed high cost estimates for the entitlement.

The report in question, authored by Chief Actuary Richard Foster, estimated the bill would cost up to $150 billion more than the $400 billion estimated over ten years by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

The administration finally released a $535-billion estimate in January, two months after the bill’s final version narrowly passed Congress.

Several House conservatives told HUMAN EVENTS last week that Democrats objecting now to the high cost of the Medicare bill are being disingenuous, because they had supported a far more costly substitute bill carrying a $1-trillion price tag over ten years.

But some conservatives say Bush’s bill probably would not have passed if the now-projected price tag had been publicly known.

“If the real numbers had been known at the time of the vote, it probably would have been more difficult to change the minds of some of the conservatives,” Rep. Walter Jones (R.-N.C.) told HUMAN EVENTS. “Probably three or four that changed their votes or voted [for the bill] would not have.”

A spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) seconded Jones’ opinion, stating that Flake “didn’t think it would have passed” with the higher cost estimates. “You may have picked up a couple of Democrats with the higher numbers, but you surely would have lost some conservative votes,” he said.

The November vote ended with a dramatic switch by a handful of conservatives, including Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.) and Butch Otter (R.-Idaho), after House leadership threatened to hold a floor vote on the Democratic version. Spokesmen for both Otter and Franks maintained that the new estimates would not have affected the congressmen’s decision to switch and vote yes.

The controversy over the cost estimates first became public June 25, the day before the prescription drug bill passed the House by just one vote. Liberal Rep. Pete Stark (D.-Calif.) had requested documents from Foster pertaining to the cost of the proposed entitlement.

“Tom Scully told my staff that [Foster] would be fired so fast his head would spin if he released this information to us,” Stark said in a news release at the time.

The following day, Scully told the Associated Press, “They don’t have the right on the Hill to call up my actuary and demand things. These people work for the Executive Branch, period.” He added that said he would release the report “if I feel like it.” Scully has since left the government and works for a Pennsylvania-based hospital operator.

The controversy resurfaced this month when a group of House Democrats signed a letter to the agency’s inspector general demanding an investigation. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson has also requested such an investigation, while maintaining that his agency did nothing wrong.

Democrats are already making political use of the Medicare debacle by alleging a cover-up over the cost estimates. They will also likely blame Bush’s tax cuts for the massive projected deficits the entitlement creates.


View All