Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will appear today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is holding its second hearing in as many weeks on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. With Republicans reportedly “set to grill” Sebelius about the law’s early glitches, it is worth remembering how officials in the Bush administration addressed the problem-plagued rollout of Medicare Part D.
In 2006, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt was defiant in his defense of the Medicare expansion, even as it faltered out of the gate. Leavitt repeatedly argued that “unexpected problems” were inevitable, vowed that the administration was “working with an army of technicians to improve the system,” and insisted that judgment should be reserved until the program was “fully operational.”
Testifying before this very same Energy and Commerce Committee, Leavitt even said that “no logical person would see a transition that complex and that large happening without unexpected problems.”
The committee’s Republicans were also quite understanding of the technological issues, as then-Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) said, “This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be some glitches.” But the past remarks of Barton and other Republicans stand in stark contrast to the monkey court hearing they held last week, which made it clear they were only interested in scaring Americans and not helping to make the law work better. Unfortunately, today’s “grilling” will be just more of the same.
Bush’s HHS Secretary Repeatedly Claimed That Medicare Expansion Problems Were Inevitable And Pledged To Fix Them
Michael Leavitt was Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from 2005-2009.
Leavitt On Medicare Part D Problems: “It’s A Heavy Lift To Be Able To Get 41 Million People Into What Will Be The Most Significant Change In Health Care In Some 40 Years.” According to a transcript of an interview with Mike Leavitt on ABC News show, This Week, “GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Well, there it is, gobbledygook. You know, we hear that, though, again and again. There are too many private plans to choose from. They’re too difficult to decipher, and the offices that are supposed to help the seniors that figure this out are just overwhelmed. What can you say about that? MIKE LEAVITT: It’s a heavy lift to be able to get 41 million people into what will be the most significant change in health care in some 40 years. But we’re making steady progress.” [ABC News, 12/11/05]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “We’re Working With An Army Of Technicians To Improve The System.” According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Leavitt blamed the problems on several factors. People who had received Medicaid and were making the transition to Medicare may have changed plans late in December and their new plan wasn’t notified yet. Also, some data wasn’t being shared among state and federal systems and the health plans. ‘We’re working with an army of technicians to improve the system, and frankly, it’s improving every day,’ Leavitt said.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/22/06 accessed via LexisNexis]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “We Have Seen Some Unexpected Problems.” According to the Secretary’s One Month Progress Report on the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, prepared by Mike Leavitt, “We are one month into the most signiﬁcant change in Medicare since the program began 40 years ago. We have seen progress in this ﬁrst month, and we have seen some unexpected problems.” [Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2/1/06]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “Any Time You Make A Change This Big In A Small Period Of Time, You Have Unanticipated Problems.” According to the Secretary’s One Month Progress Report on the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, prepared by Mike Leavitt, “Any time you make a change this big in a small period of time, you have unanticipated problems.” [Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2/1/06]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “The Measure Of Our Success Should Not Be That We Have Had No Unexpected Problems At The Outset, But Rather That We Were Able To Find, Fix And Finish The Unexpected Problems Quickly.” According to the Secretary’s One Month Progress Report on the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, prepared by Mike Leavitt, “The measure of our success should not be that we have had no unexpected problems at the outset, but rather that we were able to find, fix and finish the unexpected problems quickly.” [Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2/1/06]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “No Logical Person Would See A Transition That Complex And That Large Happening Without Some Unexpected Problems And We Have Had Them.” According to a transcript of a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Hearing On The 2007 fiscal year health care priorities, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said, “Mr. Waxman, we’re 46 days into its implementation, the biggest change in Medicare’s history. No logical person would see a transition that complex and that large happening without some unexpected problems and we have had them. We make no excuses.” [GPO.gov, 2/15/06]
Leavitt On Medicare Part D: “The Measure Of Our Success Isn’t What It Looks Like After 46 Days. It’s What It’s Going To Look Like When It’s Fully Operational.” According to a transcript of a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Hearing On The 2007 fiscal year health care priorities, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said, “The measure of our success isn’t what it looks like after 46 days. It’s what it’s going to look like when it’s fully operational.” [GPO.gov, 2/15/06]
Despite Early Problems, GOP Lawmakers — Including Some Of The Very Same Committee Members Holding Today’s Hearing — Defended Medicare Part D
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)
Barton was chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the 109th Congress where he used the term “glitches” to defend the rollout of the Medicare Part D website.
Barton On Medicare Part D: “This Is A Huge Undertaking And There Are Going To Be Glitches.” According to a press release, in a congressional hearing on the Administration’s FY ’07 Health Care Priorities, Rep. Joe Barton said, “‘This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. The committee will work closely with yourself and Dr. Mark McClellan at CMS to get problems noticed and solved.” [Barton Statement via Archive.org, 2/15/06]
- Barton: “The Result Is Not Perfect,” But Program Is Still A “Success” And “Not A Failure.” According to a transcript of a congressional hearing titled “Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said, “Medicare is finally providing patients with prescription drugs after years of false starts, failed attempts and endless debate. Congress finally delivered on its promise and created a Medicare prescription drug benefit. The result is not perfect. In fact, it is no secret that during those negotiations and markups several years ago, I unsuccessfully sought to make several changes when we debated the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 in this very room. At the end of the day, however, I voted for the bill, voted for it in committee, voted for it on the floor, and voted for it in conference. We negotiated a compromise that has created what we now call the program, Medicare Part D. Where our critics before us had failed for 40 years, that Congress and now this Congress has delivered a Medicare prescription drug benefit for millions of senior citizens. We are now in the sixtieth day of this new benefit. Although you wouldn’t believe it from some accounts, more than five million seniors have enrolled in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan. Another 20 million are getting assistance in existing plans that Medicare is helping to subsidize in some way. That adds up to 25 million seniors, and they are signing up at the rate of about a half a million a week. That sounds like a success to me, not a failure.” [“Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” via GPO.gov, 3/1/06]
- Barton: “I Would hope That We Can Work Together As We Go Through The Implementation Phase To Find Out What Is Wrong With The Program And If We Can Make Some Changes To Fix It.” According to a transcript of a congressional hearing titled “Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said, Rather than trying to scare and confuse seniors, I would hope that we can work together as we go through the implementation phase to find out what is wrong with the program and if we can make some changes to fix it, let us do it and let us do it on a bipartisan basis. We owe that to all of the millions of Medicare beneficiaries. We are going to hold aggressive oversight over the implementation of this plan. It is too big of a program and it is too important to too many people not to do that. But having said that, if it does appear that it is working, let us admit it, you know, let us not keep beating a dead horse.” [“Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” via GPO.gov, 3/1/06]
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA)
Murphy On Medicare Part D: “Any Time There Is Something New, There Is Going To Be Some Glitches.” According to the Congressional Record, in a floor speech on April 6, 2006, Rep. Tim Murphy said, “Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches. All of us, when our children were new, well, we knew as parents we didn’t exactly know everything we were doing and we had a foul-up or two, but we persevered and our children turned out well. No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment. But as we were signing up 27 million seniors at a rate sometimes approaching 400,000 a week, the system wasn’t always perfectly ready for all of them, and there were some glitches, particularly for some folks who were dual eligible. But the point is HHS or Medicare responded, put extra people on board, worked out some of the glitches, and I am pleased to say that many of the seniors that I talked to are very pleased with this program.” [Murphy Floor Speech via Congressional Record, 4/6/06]
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX)
Burgess On Medicare Part D: “I Do Believe That Fundamentally It Is A Good Plan.” According to a transcript of a congressional hearing titled “Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said, “We can’t undo the past, but certainly they can make the argument that we are having this hearing a month late and perhaps we are, but the reality is the prescription drug benefit is 40 years late and seniors who signed up for Medicare those first days back in 1965 when they were 65 years of age are now 106 years of age waiting for that prescription drug benefit, so I hope it doesn’t take us that long to get this right and I don’t believe that it will. And I do believe that fundamentally it is a good plan.” [“Medicare Part D: Implementation of the New Drug Benefit” via GPO.gov, 3/1/06]
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA)
Rep. Phil Gingrey On Medicare Part D: “I Delivered 5,200 Babies, But This May Be The Best Delivery I Have Ever Been A Part Of.” According to the Congressional Record, in a floor speech on April 6, 2006, Rep. Phil Gingrey said, “I am very happy, of course, to be here tonight to take this leadership hour and talk about something that is really near and dear to my heart but, more importantly, near and dear to the hearts of 41, 42 million seniors in this country who finally, because of the leadership of this Congress, the Republican leadership and this President, have delivered on a promise that was made years ago. And that delivery, I know a lot about them because as an OB/GYN physician before coming to Congress, I delivered 5,200 babies, but this may be the best delivery that I have ever been a part of, Mr. Speaker, and that is delivering, as I say, on a promise made by former Congresses and other Presidents over the 45-year history of the Medicare program, which was introduced in 1965 with no prescription drug benefit. And what we have done here is add part D, the ‘D’ for ‘drug’ or, if you want, the ‘delivery’ that we have finally provided to our American seniors. This prescription drug benefit is a wonderful thing, and, of course, we are going to talk about that tonight.” [Gingrey Floor Speech via Congressional Record, 4/6/06]
- Gingrey Op-Ed: There Are “People Trying To Play Politics With Our Seniors’ Health By Encouraging Them Not To Enroll.” According to an op-ed written by Rep. Phil Gingrey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Our seniors are proving the naysayers wrong. For months, we’ve heard Democrats in Congress telling our seniors that prescription drug coverage under Medicare is too complicated, won’t save them money and isn’t worth their time. […] A recent Washington Post poll found 74 percent of seniors thought enrollment was easy, and 63 percent reported savings in just the first few months. AARP, our nation’s leading senior advocate, reports that 78 percent of surveyed seniors are happy with the benefit. And yet, there are still people trying to play politics with our seniors’ health by encouraging them not to enroll. Seniors now have 15 days left to participate in Medicare drug coverage without paying a higher premium penalty, and it is absolutely imperative that in these final days, reality triumphs rhetoric.” [Gingrey Op-Ed, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1/06]