7/11/12, "Auditors: Obama administration is bending health law," S. Dinan, Washington Times
"Congress’s non-partisan investigators said Wednesday President Obama is stretching the law to give bonuses to mediocre private Medicare plans — an $8 billion program the auditors had already urged the administration to cancel.
In a pointed letter, the Government Accountability Office’s chief lawyer said the administration hasn’t shown that it can learn anything by a “demonstration” project to pay bonuses to average-performing Medicare Advantage plans. The lawyer questioned “the agency’s legal authority to undertake the demonstration.”
The administration counters that it’s trying to learn what kinds of incentives can spur private companies to offer better coverage.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s independent auditors, said that’s a stretch, since the demonstration seems designed to produce little useful data and could even reduce incentives for private plans to provide better care.
Because the demonstrations likely won’t produce results, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of her department, don’t have the authority to enact them, GAO said.
“Although CMS stated its expectation that plans will use additional bonus payments to improve the quality of care provided to beneficiaries, it did not address the fact that current Medicare regulations preclude plans’ ability to do so,” GAO General Counsel Lynn H. Gibson wrote.
HHS didn’t reply to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The 2010 health law called for Medicare Advantage plans to be cut by $145 billion over the next decade. Congress authorized bonus payments, but restricted those to high-performing plans — those scoring four or five stars.
Medicare Advantage private plans cover about a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries, and during the health debate Republicans seized on the cuts to the program, charging it meant Mr. Obama was cutting Medicare and would cause seniors to lose their preferred coverage.
On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah said GAO’s letter proves the administration is trying an illegal work-around to try to prop up Medicare plans so nobody’s coverage is cut at a politically critical time.
“Lacking the legal authority to undertake a project of this magnitude shows how the Obama administration tried to use a technicality to side step Congress and write itself a blank check to spend more money for political purposes leading into this year’s elections,” said Mr. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee,
- who has been keeping a close eye on the matter.
Earlier this year GAO issued a report saying the program was likely doomed to fail. In unusually stern language the auditors urged the administration to cancel it altogether.
Wednesday’s letter went a step further in questioning the legal authority.
GAO answers to Congress and does not have independent authority to halt the demonstration project. Congress could withdraw funding, but Democrats have been wary of taking any action that would appear to undo major parts of the health law." via American Thinker
comment about Big Bad Orrin Hatch at AT:
"My question is to Orrin Hatch; what are you going to do about it? Is there any action you can take to convince us that you, and your fellow senators, aren't simply potted plants?
Obama is illegally diverting money. Isn't there something you can do?
If not, Orrin, don't bother even campaigning for re-election. The chairmanship of the Finance Committee obviously won't be worth anything if the executive branch can spend/reassign money as it pleases."