The Prowler strikes again: Right-wing media run with dubious claim that HHS "hid damning health care report"

››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER & TODD GREGORY

The right-wing media have seized on a dubious, anonymously sourced post on The American Spectator's Washington Prowler blog which claimed that the Department of Health and Human Services kept a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) report on health care reform a secret until after the health care vote. However, this claim is undermined by the fact that one day before the House voted on the legislation, the chief actuary of CMS, Richard S. Foster, said that CMS would be unable to issue an updated analysis before the House vote; in addition, the Washington Prowler has a history of printing dubious, anonymously sourced claims.

Right-wing media run with dubious, anonymously sourced claim that Sebelius kept the CMS report "hidden"

Prowler: "[C]areer HHS sources" say Sebelius' office had CMS report "more than a week before" health care votes, but it "refused to review the document before the vote was taken." The April 26 Prowler column reported (emphasis in the original):

The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama's health care "reform" law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius's staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.

"The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote," says an HHS source. "Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think."

The analysis, performed by Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which in the past has been identified as a "nonpolitical" office, set off alarm bells when submitted. "We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff," says the HHS staffer, "and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary's office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report."

In the end, the report was released several weeks after the vote -- the review by the secretary's office reportedly took less than three days -- and bore a note that the analysis was not the official position of the Obama administration.

Limbaugh: "Everybody knew that Obamacare would ratchet up the cost. That news was suppressed." On the April 26 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh read from The American Spectator post and claimed: "So everybody knew. Everybody knew that Obamacare would ratchet up the cost. That news was suppressed." Limbaugh also falsely claimed that "Sebelius didn't want to read it on purpose, saying she didn't want to affect the vote, all of which is true."

Hoft: "Breaking: Dems Hid Damning Health Care Report From Public Until a Month After Vote!" On April 26, Jim Hoft on Gateway Pundit claimed: "A damning health care report generated by actuaries at the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department was given to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the health care vote. She hid the report from the public until a month after democrats rammed their nationalized health care bill through Congress." Hoft also claimed that "[w]hen Nancy Pelosi told America, 'We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,' she forgot to mention that democrats already knew what was in it. They just didn't want the rest of the country to find out. If we had a responsible media this would make headlines for about the next year and a half." Hoft also posted on Big Government.

Fox Nation: "Did Sebelius Bury Damaging HHS Report Before Health Vote?" On April 26, the Fox Nation linked to The American Spectator post under the headline, "Did Sebelius Bury Damaging HHS Report Before Health Vote?"

Fox Nation Headline: Did Sebelius Bury Damaging HHS Report Before Health Vote?

Ace of Spades: "Obama Admin Buried Report on Cost of ObamaCare Until After Vote." On April 27, Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades linked to The American Spectator post and wrote: "Whoa! That report from the Medicare actuaries released last week that concluded ObamaCare would raise premiums? The Obama Administration had it a week before the final vote...and sat on it. ... Apparently, copies of the report were sent to Sebelius and to the White House." Malor also wrote: "So in addition to midnight votes and bribes to reluctant Congressmen, the Obama folks sat on government reports, reports that the taxpayers paid for, which would have shined a light on the President's healthcare reform lies. And that's what they were. He can't plead ignorance. His own actuaries were telling him it would raise premiums while he was going on TV and saying the opposite."

Claims that report was "hidden" undermined by Foster's March 20 letter in which he wrote he was unable to score the bill

Foster on March 20: CMS actuaries "will not be able to prepare our analysis within this very tight time frame" and referred GOP to January 8 report. In a March 20 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, days before the final vote on health care reform, Foster wrote that he was unable to comply with Republican leadership's request for an updated analysis due to the "very tight time frame" and "complexity of the legislation." From Foster's March 20 letter:

Dear Senator McConnell:

This letter is in preliminary response to your inquiry of March 19 requesting an updated analysis by the Office of the Actuary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (as passed by the Senate) as it would be modified by the "Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute to H.R. 4872, the Reconciliation Act of 2010" (as released by the House Committee on Rules on March 18). The request was made jointly by yourself and 10 other members of the House and Senate Republican Leadership.

In your letter, you requested that we provide the updated actuarial estimates in time for your review prior to the expected House debate and vote on this legislation on March 21,2010. I regret that my staff and I will not be able to prepare our analysis within this very tight time frame, due to the complexity of the legislation. We will, however, continue working to estimate the financial, coverage, and other impacts of the health reform package and will provide these results to you as quickly as possible.

As you know, the Office of the Actuary has assisted Congressional Administration policy makers on health legislative and policy initiatives for many years, including the original Medicare legislation in 1965, all subsequent amendments to this program, Medicaid amendments since 1976, and the Clinton Administration's proposed Health Security Act in 1993-94. Our goal has always been to provide independent, objective technical information for use by policy makers as they deliberate Medicare, Medicaid, and national health reform proposals.

We issued an analysis of the Senate Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in a memorandum dated January 8, 2010. While it is reasonable to expect that our updated analysis of this legislation, as modified by the reconciliation amendments, would be generally similar to the results in the January 8 memorandum, I cannot confirm this expectation without a full evaluation of the amendments and re-estimation of the provisions.

I am sending a similar letter to House Republican Leader Boehner, and, for expediency, will email copies to the other cosigners of your request. I am sorry that we cannot respond more quickly. Please let us know if you have any other questions we can assist with.

Sincerely,

Richard. S. Foster

Chief Actuary

House voted on health care reform with reconciliation changes on March 21. The House of Representatives voted on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with fixes on March 21. The Senate voted on reconciliation fixes to the bill on March 25.

Time: Recently released CMS report is "nearly identical" to CMS "report released January 8, 2010." In an April 23 post on Time's Swampland blog, staff writer Kate Pickert reported:

[T]he actuary who wrote the report, Richard S. Foster, authored a nearly identical report released January 8, 2010. Some of his figures changed in the interim -- he wrote about the Senate bill in January and this week's report includes changes made by the reconciliation package that altered the Senate bill -- but overall, Foster's assessment is the same.

[...]

The health reform law will increase overall spending in the near future because more people will have insurance and therefore access to medical care. Those who are now going without care because of cost will, post-implementation of reform, seek care, insurance or Medicaid card in hand. Reductions in Medicare reimbursements to providers may cause some to limit the Medicare patients they accept; future cuts to Medicare reimbursements called for in the bill may never happen due to political pressure; the long-term care insurance program created by the law may be unsustainable. This is all important, truthful information and provides a worthy counter-balance to those celebrating the health reform law's less contentious implications. But it's worth stressing what this report is not - surprising new information that was kept under wraps during the health reform debate.

Prowler has history of dubious, anonymously sourced reports

Prowler baselessly linked WH effort to fight health care misinformation, unsolicited emails. The Washington Prowler was among the conservative media outlets that baselessly suggested that people who reportedly claimed to have received unsolicited email from White House adviser David Axelrod may have been added to a White House "enemies list" after emails they sent that were critical of the Obama administration were purportedly forwarded to flag@whitehouse.gov.

Prowler promoted false claim that Democrats circulated Schiavo memo. The Washington Prowler falsely accused Democrats of secretly authoring a talking points memo that described the Terri Schiavo case as a "great political issue" for Senate Republicans. An aide to then-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) admitted publicly that he wrote the memo.

Hot Air's Allahpundit has noted Prowler's history of publishing dubious quotes from Democrats. Anonymous quotes are a staple of the Prowler column. "Allahpundit," a conservative writer for the blog Hot Air, has made the following observations about the reliability of the Prowler's reporting:

  • Another day, another anonymous left-wing source who knows someone who might have overheard something at a party somewhere in DC quoted in the Prowler. ... A reader reminds me that the Prowler once quoted an unnamed 'Republican leadership staffer' as blaming Harry Reid for that Terri Schiavo memo that turned out to have been written by one of Mel Martinez's staffers. Read the quotes; see if they sound any more realistic to you than the quote in today's piece." [HotAir.com, 10/10/06]
  • "I never know how seriously to take the Prowler." [HotAir.com, 9/24/06]
  • "[T]his comes from the Prowler, which has an amazing knack - which I've noticed before - for squeezing hypercynical, Snidely Whiplash-ish comments out of unnamed Democrats revealing their sinister political motives. Try this one on for size. ... Totally implausible? Nope. But just a tad more menacing than you'd expect a Democrat to be when talking, even anonymously, to a conservative publication like the Spectator. Believe what you like." [HotAir.com, 10/8/07]
  • "Too juicy not to post, too sketchy to take very seriously. It's the Prowler, guys. Caveat emptor. ... Unusually menacing, fluidly articulate quotes from anonymous Democrats are a hallmark of Prowler items, especially those having to do with the Fairness Doctrine, but there's a grain of plausibility here." [HotAir.com, 2/16/09]
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