KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medicare Brochure Mailing Draws GOP Ire

Republicans are criticizing a taxpayer-funded brochure sent to 40.2 million Medicare beneficiaries explaining changes to the program under the new health law.

"The Obama administration said the mailing is an effort to inform the public about the effects of the legislation," but "Republican lawmakers call it misleading propaganda and an illegal use of taxpayer funds," The Washington Post reports. "On Wednesday, senior Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog, to assess the issue." The brochure promises that the changes "will provide you and your family greater savings and increased quality health care." It was prepared by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with input from the White House and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"The four-page glossy color brochure says the new law delivers 'needed improvements that will keep Medicare strong and solvent.' .... It uses variations of the words 'improves' or 'improvements' eight times" (Hilzenrath, 5/27).

Politico: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the mailings are an important part of an 'aggressive outreach campaign' to challenge myths circulated during and after the vote on health reform." Seniors, who have been "highly skeptical of the overhaul plan" are "also a constituency that turns out to vote in mid-term elections, which are looming in just five months. Pelosi, Hoyer and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said they have a responsibility to educate people about what's in the overhaul and what's not" (Haberkorn, 5/26). 

The Hill: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the outreach efforts on the Senate floor Tuesday, pointing out that Sebelius had objected to private Medicare Advantage plans using its communications to seniors to raise concerns with the health reform law when it was being debated. And, he adds, the chief actuary for the agency that oversees Medicare has raised concerns that the new law could lead to reduced Medicare Advantage benefits" (Pecquet, 5/26).

NPR's Shots blog notes that the controversy is "almost identical to the flap that took place six years ago, except with the political parties in opposite roles. Back then, it was a Republican administration trying to educate seniors about a new Medicare prescription drug law passed with mostly Republican votes. Democrats were so outraged at the time that they called for investigations by the Government Accountability Office and HHS's own inspector General into whether the campaign was inappropriately political… In the end, those 2004 investigations did find the Bush administration's mailings about the new drug benefit 'misleading'" (Rovner, 5/25).

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