Washington Prowler

HHS’s Data Game

More on the numbers that were in play before passage of Obamacare.

By 4.28.10

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Several points related to the push back by the Obama Administration and the Medicare's Office of the Actuary and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to our recent post regarding the office's report on the Obama health care reform legislation. Recall, the study determined that the law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, when the administration had claimed that the law would do neither.

The Prowler reported via sources inside Health and Human Services that data from the study that indicated that costs would hit consumers in the pocketbook was made available to the senior officials in HHS, prior to final passage of the legislation in the House. The report never stated that it was submitted for approval. Such reports by "non-political" or "nonpartisan" entities inside Cabinet departments, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Department of Justice, routinely provide, to senior leadership offices in a department, studies and reports with data that often run counter to an Administration's liking, and often before those reports are released to the media or the public.

It should be noted that in the Bush Administration, such reports were often leaked to reporters days before officials in the administration received them, allowing the "nonpartisan" agencies to shape their facts and studies with almost no push back from the departments in question.

Our sources stand by the facts that prior to final passage of the health care reform bill on Sunday, March 21, the Office of the Actuary had provided senior leaders inside HHS with data that indicated the then-bill would increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on Americans. And that data was not provided to anyone publicly until after the legislation was passed. 

That the report was issued after the bill's passage is not in dispute. What is in dispute is who had data and when were those estimates initially available. According to our sources, researchers in the actuary's office had several models prepared, at least one of them based on the Senate health care reform bill, which was passed several months before the House vote. Data from studying the Senate bill indicated that -- big surprise -- the bill would increase health care costs.

Recall that the House bill in most ways resembled the Senate bill, with the exception of a number of "technical fixes." Obama signed the bill into law the Tuesday after House passage -- before the Senate took those "fixes" up. 

"The legislation was incredibly complex, there is no question about that," says an HHS source we spoke to. "But people have been crunching numbers on these bills for quite some time after January 1."

And it wasn't as though the actuary's office was reporting something that others were not reporting. The Congressional Budget Office going back to August of 2009 had estimates that indicated that the House health care proposal would increase the deficit by $239 billion over 10 years, and that some costs would be shifted to consumers. Rep. Paul Ryan detailed similar data in February during the so-called "health care summit" at Blair House. Data, which President Obama dismissed.

Why conservatives and Republicans are up in arms over the report of the Medicare Office of the Actuary data is because for years, such information was routinely leaked to the drive-by media to bash a Bush Administration plan or proposal, or to embarrass a Republican official. Now, the data that would seemingly aid in -- at the very least -- generating further debate over a major increase in the size of government was nowhere in sight.

All of which is a long way of saying, our sources stand by their information conveyed to The Prowler: that data on the outcomes of the Obama health care reform was available to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and HHS officials days before the final vote, and that that data was not released to the public or the press until almost a month after the final bill's passage.

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