GOP To Stall Confirmation Of HHS Nominees, Due To Flap Over Insurers' Letters To Seniors

Debate continues about the administration's reaction to letters sent by insurers to seniors about health overhaul.

The Associated Press reports: "The Senate's top Republicans said Thursday they wouldn't allow President Barack Obama to fill health posts until his administration stops barring insurers from telling the elderly how Democrats' health overhaul could affect their benefits. ... It's the latest escalation in a politically charged controversy over whether the wide-ranging health system remake Democrats have written would result in reduced benefits and services for seniors. The measures -- along the lines Obama has called for -- propose hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade in cuts to Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly and disabled, including in a program that lets private insurers contract with Medicare to provide coverage" (Davis, 9/24).

CQ HealthBeat: In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that members of the GOP won’t consent to time agreements on nominees until the department revokes a memo sent to health insurance companies telling them they should end 'misleading' communications with enrollees about proposals pending in Congress to reduce funds for MA and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. McConnell said that Medicare officials in the Obama administration have reversed a longstanding practice at the agency to allow such communications as a freedom of speech issue. Humana Inc., based in Louisville, Ky., told enrolled seniors in a mailing that the health overhaul could harm 'millions of seniors and disabled individuals (who) could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable.' The envelope in which the letter was mailed told seniors to open it immediately for important MA information" (Norman, 9/24).

Roll Call reports: "HHS spokesman Nicholas Papas said the department will continue its investigation into a mailer sent to seniors by Humana that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has argued contains misleading information about his legislation's impact on Medicare and Medicaid. ... Republicans have taken up the controversy, arguing that Humana's claims about potential reductions in benefits to Medicare are not misleading and are backed by findings of the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans have also sought to make the flap the centerpiece of a broader attack on President Barack Obama and Democrats, accusing them of attempting to stifle dissent against their policy proposals, tying the Humana incident to charges of racism and astroturfing relating to the August town hall protests" (Stanton, 9/24).

In a separate piece, Roll Call reports: "The White House has five HHS nominees pending before the Senate, with an additional five vacancies at the agency" (Stanton, 9/24).

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