Threats and lies, yes. Illegal? HHS doesn't think so

Published July 7, 2004 2:02PM (EDT)

Aside from being a sop to big pharmaceutical companies, Bush's recently-passed prescription drug benefit now looks like it's going to cost $100 to $200 billion more over 10 years than previous estimates. Why didn't Congress have a clue when it passed the legislation? Because the Bush administration didn't tell Congress. But the New York Times reports today that Bush's Department of Health and Human Services investigated the issue, and while the internal probe "confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program's chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged," HHS concluded that no laws were broken.

"A report on the investigation, issued Tuesday, says the administrator of Medicare, Thomas A. Scully, issued the threat to Richard S. Foster while lawmakers were considering huge changes in the program last year. As a result, Mr. Foster's cost estimate did not become known until after the legislation was enacted.

"But neither the threat nor the withholding of information violated any criminal law, the report said. It accepted the Justice Department's view that Mr. Scully had 'the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress.' Moreover, it said, the actuary 'had no authority to disclose information independently to Congress.'

"But Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said, 'It sounds as though the Bush administration examined itself and found it did nothing wrong.'

"The senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana, said that given a limited scope of the investigation, 'we cannot know about the involvement or knowledge of White House officials'' in the suppression of information."

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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