House Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on health Wednesday accused their Republican counterparts of blocking certain witnesses from testifying on the rollout of the Medicare Part D drug program -- including executives from Humana, the Government Accountability Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation -- and invoked a seldom-used congressional rule to finagle a second day of hearings.
In a letter signed by all five Democrats on the subcommittee and sent to the subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), the minority members said that Wednesday's hearing "failed to include important witnesses necessary to enable the subcommittee to fully examine the issues surrounding implementation of the program."
The letter also reiterated the minority party's invocation of the so-called Rule 11, which was invoked late in yesterday's hearing. Under terms of the rule, the minority party can call for additional hearings, but gives the majority party the right to determine the date and time.
A second hearing has been scheduled for today, but a witness list has yet to be finalized. But the additional hearing has done little to quell Democrats' ire. "Unfortunately, the Republicans gave less than 20 hours notice for the second hearing, all but preventing many witnesses from testifying," Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), ranking member, said in a prepared statement.
The hearing Wednesday, which was interrupted at least twice for House votes, included CMS Administrator Mark McClellan and Beatrice Disman, chairwoman of the Medicare Planning and Implementation Task Force for the Social Security Administration.
A second panel included Susan Everett, North Carolina regional coordinator of Medicare Today, an alliance that represents patients, providers and employers, based in Raleigh; Heath Schiesser, president, prescription drug plan, WellCare Health Plans, Tampa, Fla.; Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, an independent source of Medicare information, New York; Bill Wolfe, vice president, Rite Aid Corp., Harrisburg, Pa.; and Pam Grisnik, owner of Rx Xpress Pharmacy in Grove City, Pa., speaking on behalf of the National Community Pharmacists Association.
In the letter, Democrats said they want to include representatives from the Office of the Inspector General, a state Medicaid director, a beneficiary membership organization, and a witness to address retiree coverage issues. "Many of these witnesses were requested, but rejected by the majority," the letter states. -- by Matthew DoBias