The General Accounting Office reopened its investigation into HHS' promotion of the new Medicare reform law, and senators urged protection for a CMS official who disclosed that he was pressured to hold back a higher estimate of the law's cost. The GAO's announcement followed media reports that HHS' promotional material includes possibly deceptive "video news releases" in which the benefits of the Medicare law are discussed by actors playing journalists. Earlier this month, the GAO completed an investigation at the request of Democrats and said it had determined that HHS' print and television advertisements might have political undertones but weren't illegal. An HHS spokesman said video news releases like those now in question are widely used by government agencies and critics are less interested in possible malfeasance than in trying to derail the reform law. A GAO spokesman said the agency is resuming the investigation at its "own initiative." He didn't have a timeline for completing the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged President Bush to prevent retaliation against CMS Chief Actuary Richard Foster for telling news organizations he was threatened with the loss of his job last year if he disclosed to Congress his estimate of the reform law's cost. In a letter to Bush, the senators said, "It is vital that politics not influence the administration's investigation in (Foster's) allegations, which if substantiated, could constitute significant wrongdoing." -- by Jeff Tieman