WASHINGTON — Noting that "there seems to be a cloud hanging over this department," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday ordered a formal investigation of allegations that the Bush administration withheld information about the cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill from members of Congress.
Thompson said his department’s inspector general would reconstruct events of June 2003, when the House and the Senate were debating separate versions of the Medicare reform bill, to determine whether then Medicare Administrator Thomas Scully threatened to fire Richard Foster, Medicare’s top financial analyst, if he shared his cost estimates with lawmakers.
The investigation also will examine whether information about the cost and potential effect of various provisions of the Medicare legislation was improperly withheld from Congress, Thompson said.
While they were debating the legislation, lawmakers used the administration’s estimate that the Medicare bill would cost $400 billion over 10 years. An administration document prepared in June, but not shared with Congress, put the cost of an early version of the legislation at $551 billion.
"We have nothing to hide," Thompson said.
In another indication that the administration may be responding to political pressure, Thompson announced the 13 members of a task force on drug importation, which he said would focus on whether prescription drugs could be imported safely and what procedures are needed to make safe importation possible.
In the past, administration officials have insisted that it was nearly impossible to certify the safety of drugs imported from Canada and other countries.