Republican Lawmaker Accuses HHS Secretary of Budget Shenanigans: ‘You’re Double Counting’

March 8, 2011 - 9:52 AM

Kathleen Sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks to reporters at HHS headquarters in Washington on July 1, 2010. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted at a House hearing last week that $500 billion in Medicare cuts contained in the Democrats’ health care law is being counted in two ways: both to shore up Medicare and to fund health-care reform.

Sebelius made the admission during questioning by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on March 3.

Shimkus noted that the Obama administration’s chief actuary for Medicare, Richard Foster, has said that the administration cannot simultaneously bolster Medicare and fund health-care reform without adding to the deficit.

“There is an issue here on the budget, because your own actuary has said, you can’t double-count,” said Shimkus. 

“Your own actuary says you can’t do both.  So, my simple question -- I have 27 seconds left -- what’s the $500 billion in cuts for? Preserving Medicare or funding the health care law?  Which is it?”

When Sebelius did not give a direct answer, Shimkus tried again: “Are you using it (the $500 billion) to save Medicare or are you using it to fund health care reform? Which one?”

“Both,” Sebelius replied.

“So you’re double counting,” Shimkus concluded.

In an April 2010 memo released by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Chief Actuary Richard Foster wrote that the savings in Medicare could not be spent twice.

Prior to Foster’s memo, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf made a similar statement on his blog – saying that money used for future Medicare benefits cannot simultaneously provide resources to pay for new programs outside of Medicare.

When touting the benefits of the health-care reform bill to the American people, President Obama, Sebelius, and other Democrats have insisted that the bill will lead to a reduction of $138 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.

Transcript of Exchange between Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sibelius:

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.): In that February 4th 2010 hearing I asked you a question -- and then you admitted that the $500 billion Medicare cuts—there were $500 billion in Medicare cuts, is that correct? 

Kathleen Sebelius: No sir. That is not correct.

Rep. Shimkus: Well, I would refer you to the transcript and I’ll read it to you if you want me to. 

Sec. Sebelius: Sir, the growth rate was -- 

Rep. Shimkus (reading): “Mr. Shimkus: ‘So, the president supports cutting $500 billion in Medicare, yes or no?’ Secretary Sebelius: ‘The president is supportive of the health-reform legislation.’  ‘Is that a yes?’  Sec. Sebilius: ‘I said Yes, sir.’” 

Rep. Shimkus to Sebelius: So our problem is this whole debate on Medicare cuts.” 

Sec. Sebelius: The health care description doesn’t include $500 billion in Medicare cuts. 

Rep. Shimkus: Madam, my concern is the budget hearing. There is an issue here on the budget, because your own actuary has said, you can’t double count.  You can’t count $500--they’re attacking Medicare on the CR when their bill, your law, cuts $500 billion from Medicare.  Then your same $500 billion for what? To say you’re funding health care. Your own actuary says you can’t do both.  So, my simple question -- I have 27 seconds left -- What’s the $500 billion in cuts for? Preserving Medicare or funding the health care law?  Which is it? 

Sec. Sebelius: Sir, the Affordable Care Act adds 12 years to the Medicare trust fund according to every actuary and the $500 Billion represents a slow down in the growth rate of Medicare over 10 years from what was projected at 8 percent. 

Rep. Shimkus: So is it Medicare?  Are you using it to save Medicare or are you using it to fund health care reform? Which one? 

Sec. Sebelius: Both. 

Rep. Shimkus: So you’re double counting! I yield back my time.