Wednesday, February 04, 2004

CBS Will Run Whitehouse Medicare Ads

Paid for by your tax dollar.


Waste, Fraud & Abuse?

Just two days after the White House proposed serious budget cuts and the President said he's "calling upon Congress to be wise with the taxpayer's money," the Bush Administration announced a massive taxpayer-funded television ad campaign to promote its controversial Medicare bill (you can download the ad). Specifically, the White House will use $9.5 million from the Department of Health and Human Services – money that is supposed to be used to implement the law and could go to restore some of the cuts to social services for the poor – on political commercials that "rebut criticism of the new Medicare law." The TV ads will be augmented by $3.1 million in print, radio and Spanish-language ads. The effort represents an "uncommonly aggressive campaign by the administration and congressional Republicans to promote legislation that already has become law" by using scarce taxpayer funds expressly for partisan political purposes at a time when lawmakers are trying to amend the bill. And while the White House claims to be very concerned with the deficits, the new ads – and the past record of opening the spigot of taxpayer money for partisan political purposes – raises questions. First and foremost, does the blatant misuse of taxpayer funds for political purposes violate federal law under 31 USC 1301(a) and 5 USC 7321? Secondly, how much other waste, fraud and abuse is being promoted throughout the government?

THE AD'S DISTORTIONS: The new Medicare ads urge citizens to call 1-800-MEDICARE to hear more about the new law. And in "Big Brother" style, when you call that number you have to actually say out loud "Medicare improvement" in order to get information. The information you then receive is filled with distortions. The hotline claims the new Medicare "is the same Medicare you have always counted on" – failing to disclose that the law includes provisions which try to force more seniors into private HMOs. The hotline claims that seniors will be able to find "immediate savings between 10% to 15% from a new drug discount card program." But the cards, which were written into the bill by one of President Bush's closest business associates, actually do not guarantee any savings at all. The hotline also says the new prescription drug program under Medicare "will provide significant savings for seniors." But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes, "seniors in the middle income quintile will pay an average of $1,650 a year in out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs in 2006 - a figure nearly 60% more than they paid in 2000."

HHS FUNDS HAVE BEEN RAIDED BEFORE: HHS is the agency charged with helping low-income citizens find health care and social services, which means its funds have been historically shielded from overt politics. But that changed when, last year, the WP reported "the White House billed HHS's Office of Family Assistance $210,000 to help pay for five trips in which President Bush promoted welfare reform at official events and made separate fundraising appearances for GOP candidates." By tapping agencies such as HHS for part of the costs "the president can stay on the campaign trail without socking all the costs to the Republican Party" – instead forcing taxpayers to foot the bill. When HHS was pressed about how much the White House had siphoned off from programs for low-income families and into bankrolling partisan fundraising trips, "they said they could not provide the total scope of White House billing to all of HHS." Meanwhile, the "White House said they were unable to determine the total scope of billings for White House travel costs to other domestic departments."