Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kathleen Sebelius, Obamacare’s Resident Spendthrift

Do you remember the old TV show “Supermarket Sweep” – the one where people went running wildly through a grocery store, picking up expensive products (and occasionally crashing in the process), in an attempt to spend the greatest amount of money in the shortest amount of time?  Well, that’s not a bad analogy for how HHS is trying to blow through vast sums of Obamacare money before the law gets struck down and/or repealed, as two pieces in this morning’s Wall Street Journal outline.  The first piece, an editorial appropriately entitled “Fannie Med,” discusses among other things Obamacare’s co-op loans.  Even the Administration estimates at least $1 billion in taxpayer funds spent on co-op loans will not be repaid – not least because of the way HHS chose to structure the loans, which place federal taxpayers at the BACK of the line to be repaid, in an attempt to circumvent state requirements regarding insurers’ reserves.

In a separate op-ed on the Journal’s pages, Steven Greer, a former grants administrator for Obamacare’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), gives his firsthand experience about how that program’s $10 billion “slush fund” is being spent with little oversight or forethought:

Having written numerous other federal grant applications as a medical researcher, I was surprised by the very short time allotted to review 12 applications, each of which ran more than 100 pages.  We had only two weeks to assemble a team and grade the applications on such criteria as the promise of the project design and its workforce goals.  Applications to the government’s National Institutes of Health or the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, by contrast, undergo months of thoughtful review by scientists who are well-regarded in their fields.  I began to wonder how much CMMI was interested in high-quality input from the grant reviewers.

Of course, CMMI has its supporters; former Medicare Administrator Donald Berwick called it the “crown jewel” of Obamacare.  And little wonder – for as Greer exposes, Berwick’s former employer seems to be a big winner from Obamacare’s $10 billion giveaway:

Dr. Donald Berwick was Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from July 2010 to December 2011.  CMMI, which was established during his tenure, started another program called the Partnership for Patients….In December 2011, the Partnership for Patients awarded a contract to the Health Research and Education Trust, which in turn awarded a subcontract to the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement—which Dr. Berwick ran for 19 years before he moved to Medicare.  A source involved with Partnership for Patients told me about the relationship.

I emailed Dr. Berwick in May to confirm the subcontracts between the institute and the trust.  “I don’t think there are contracts between them, but they’re good friends,” he replied.  He was careful to note that he is no longer the institute’s CEO, though he now works out of the institute’s Boston offices as an adviser.  The Health Research and Education Trust and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement have not responded to requests for information about the subcontract.

(On a related note, has anyone ever questioned why Dr. Berwick never bothered to release tax information from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement that Sen. Grassley requested from him two years ago?  Why does an CMS Administrator who argued for transparency in government – and has claimed in interviews he wants “decision-making to be done in the daylight” – refuse to be transparent about HIS financial dealings?)

Greer’s op-ed also delightfully points out that several of the CMMI grants spend about as much money as they supposedly will save: “George Washington University earned $1,939,127 because it expected to reduce health costs by a mere $1.7 million.  Similarly, the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio received $4,557,969 to save $5 million.”

Spending money to keep from going bankrupt?  Well, at least on that count, you can’t say they didn’t warn us…