Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to compel HHS to release CMS cost estimates for last year's Medicare reform law developed while the law was under consideration. The suit, by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and 18 other Democrats, alleges that the estimates by the CMS actuary were shared with Republicans, but not Democrats, on the House-Senate conference committee that wrote the final law while work was under way. Congress estimated the law would cost $400 billion over 10 years -- an estimate backed up in statements by President Bush and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson during the House vote on the bill last November, said David Vladeck, an attorney for the Democrats. After the law was approved, the Bush administration said it would actually cost $534 billion over 10 years. "Given the sequence of events here, we're left to conclude this was a deliberate bait and switch," Vladeck said.
HHS has not yet responded to the lawsuit. It has 60 days to do so. HHS spokesman Bill Pierce called the suit "nothing more than politics" by Democrats "who opposed the legislation and now the law." Pierce said that while rough cost estimates were made during deliberations, revisions to the bill made it difficult to arrive at an accurate figure, and the $534 billion estimate was not reached until December. Meanwhile, new CMS Administrator Mark McClellan told reporters today that he intends to make future estimates by the CMS actuary readily available to Congress. -- by Jeff Tieman