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Medicare Chief Refuses to Answer Congressional Inquiries About the Health Care Laws’ Impact on Seniors

February 10, 2011

Washington, DC – Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) today convened the Committee on Ways and Means for a hearing to examine the impact of the Democrats’ health care law on Medicare and its beneficiaries.  The hearing included testimony from two officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick and Chief Actuary, Richard Foster.  In response to the hearing, Camp said:

“Today’s hearing was an opportunity for CMS to set the record straight and end the confusion about how the agency will enact one half-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts while continuing to serve our nation’s seniors.  Despite simple and straight-forward questions, we couldn’t get any simple and straight-forward answers from Dr. Berwick.  Rick Foster, however clearly stated that seniors and other beneficiaries can expect higher costs and loss of access because of the Democrats’ health care law.”

Below are excerpts of Berwick’s evasive responses followed by excerpts from Foster’s testimony.

Dr. Berwick

What is your opinion on a rationing system and universal health care?

Chairman Camp: “Well, regarding the British National health service, you made a statement, and that is a service that is notorious for rationing care, you said and I quote ‘I fell in love with the NHS…to an American observer, the NHS is such a seductress.’ Are you still in love with the NHS?”

Dr. Berwick: “There are strengths and weaknesses for every health care system around the world.”

Chairman Camp: “Well you also wrote and I am quoting here, ‘I admit to my own devotion to a single-payer mechanism as the only sensible approach to health care finance I can think of.’ Do you still feel a government run single payer health care system is the only sensible approach?”

Dr. Berwick: “I am really excited by the promise the Affordable Health Care Act offers, Mr. Chairman, to American health care.”

Is there anything you would change to the Democrats’ Health Law?

Rep. Reichert: “Is there anything that stands out in your mind that you would change? What don’t you like about the bill, or is it all good?”

Dr. Berwick: “It is a very complicated bill sir.”

Can you keep the health care plan you have and like?

Rep. Price: “Is it true, if you like what you have you can keep it?”

Dr. Berwick: “I don’t understand your question…”

Rep. Price: “Because of this bill, there are Americans that have lost the coverage they want and in fact can’t have the coverage that they like.”

Dr. Berwick: “Dr. Price my answer is there is turnover always in what is available to beneficiaries.”

Rick Foster

Does health spending increase because of the Democrats’ new health law?

Chairman Camp: “In your expert analysis, would you say that their law increases or decreases national health expenditures?”

Mr. Foster: “We have estimated that overall, the national health expenditures would increase under the health reform act.”

Will the new health care law jeopardize seniors’ access to care?

Rep. Herger: “In an auxiliary report to the Medicare Trustees’ 2010 Report, CMS actuaries predicted that under the new health care law, by 2019, Medicare payment rates will be lower than current Medicaid rates.  In your recent testimony before the House Budget Committee, you confirmed that the best case scenario under current law is that Medicare rates will be equal to Medicaid rates in 10 years. What impact would these rates have on beneficiaries’ access to care?”

Mr. Foster: “If Medicare payment rates become lower than the current level for Medicaid, which would in fact happen over time under the Affordable Care Act, then it raises questions about the ability of beneficiaries to have access to care.”