- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson yesterday called on the department’s inspector general to investigate whether the Medicare chief pressured a subordinate to withhold estimates of the cost of the 2003 Medicare legislation.

The estimates — higher than those projected by congressional budget analysts — have yet to be made public or turned over to congressional Democrats who have requested them, although Mr. Thompson said his staff is gathering the documents.

With the Bush administration’s efforts to showcase the new Medicare prescription- drug law slowed by a steady stream of accusations by Democrats about ethical improprieties in drafting, passing and promoting the law, Mr. Thompson spent more than an hour with reporters to address a range of criticism.

Mr. Thompson did not dispute the thrust of the story, reported by the Associated Press in June, that Thomas Scully, who ran the Medicare agency until December, threatened to fire his top actuary, Rick Foster, if the latter released his calculations to Democrats.

Mr. Scully said his comments were “heated rhetoric in the middle of the night.”

But the matter has taken on a new life because the administration projected in the budget it submitted to Congress last month that the 10-year cost of the bill would be $534 billion, instead of the $395 billion it had estimated in writing the legislation.

Mr. Foster estimated in June that a version similar to what became law would cost $551 billion, according to a document subsequently obtained and released by House Democrats.

“There seems to be a cloud over this department because of this. We have nothing to hide, so I want to make darn sure everything comes out,” Mr. Thompson said.

Democrats applauded Mr. Thompson’s request, but Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said questions still remain about why the president, Mr. Thompson and other officials continued to say the legislation would cost $400 billion “when their best estimate was that it would cost much more?”

The secretary said he never told Mr. Scully to prevent Mr. Foster from sharing his higher cost estimates with lawmakers, some of whom had said that they would not vote for legislation that cost more than $400 billion over 10 years.

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