You may recall the sad saga of Medicare actuary Richard Foster, whose estimates for the cost of the prescription drug benefit were withheld from Congress during last year’s debate. It turns out that at least one estimate generated by his office for the 10-year tab totalled $599 billion — nearly 50 percent higher than the figure provided by the Bush administration.
The higher figure was revealed today by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 18 other representatives in a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. They blasted Thompson for continuing to withhold documents in their ongoing probe of alleged administration lies during the debate. “Information was actively suppressed by the administration,” they wrote. “This is a very serious breach of the integrity of the legislative process.”
According to the Democrats, the $599 billion figure was contained in an Office of the Actuary estimated dated June 11, 2003. Two weeks later, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, in outlining the bill’s prospects, told reporters that the fact “the president’s proposal . . . has been accepted as a $400 (billion) proposal is helpful.”
This is about more than partisan bickering. Though the drug bill’s actual costs keep going up, it provides woefully inadequate financial support for seniors. Why? Because in writing the bill, Republicans in Congress prohibited Medicare from doing anything about skyrocketing drug prices. The bill forbids the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices, forbids the use of formularies (which could steer consumers to generics), and does next to nothing to give seniors and physicians better information about the most cost effective medicines.
In other words, the administration first lied to Congress, and then wrote a bill that turned a subsidy for seniors into a subsidy for Big Pharma. If prices over the next ten years rise at the same pace as they have over the last five years, most seniors will wind up paying more for prescription drugs in ten years than they pay today.