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Sun Feb 3, 2013, 04:36 PM

Anyone remember Richard Foster??? -- he has retired

Retiring Medicare Actuary Reflects On The Politics Of Spending And Why He Almost Quit

Q: During the 2003 debate over the creation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, your office estimated it would cost $534 billion over a decade. The White House told Congress it would cost $400 billion and later the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost at $395 billion. According to the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, your boss at the time -- CMS Administrator Tom Scully -- told you not to respond directly to requests from Capitol Hill and threatened to take disciplinary action if you did. What was it like to be in the middle of such a heated fight?

A: The experience itself was pretty awful, as you can imagine. I’ve devoted my career to providing objective, nonpartisan, technical information to policymakers. Suddenly, I was ordered through an apparently legal process not to respond to congressional requests directly, which we’d been doing for decades, but instead to provide the information to the administrator and he would decide what to do with it.

Obviously, I was very unhappy about this. However, requests [from Capitol Hill] continued to come in. I still had to provide [answers] to the administrator. It became apparent enough that he would pass along to the requester the ones that could be used to argue in favor of the Medicare Modernization Act. But the ones that might be used to argue against it, he wouldn’t pass those on.

It wasn’t until the Inspector General and Government Accountability Office did major investigations to find out what went wrong that politicians and policymakers were reminded that, yes, Congress has a right to objective, technical information.


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