House Republican Committee chairmen began to pile onto rising controversy around the $8.3 billion Medicare Advantage Star Ratings Demonstration this week, first brought to attention by the Government Accountability Office’s study of the program commissioned by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in April.
In May, the American Action Forum — an influential conservative think tank here in DC — released a report authored by former Congressional Budget Office Chief Douglas Holtz-Eakin blasting the Stars Demo. “The system rewards beneficiaries for choosing those plans favored by the selected CMS criteria, rather than the plans that best meet their needs,” said the report. It went on to say the program will actually serve to limit choice — and since counties with higher incomes will end up having higher-rated plans, it will have an adverse effect on low-income beneficiaries. “The goal of incentivizing quality health plans is legitimate and admirable; that goal will not be achieved by the rating structure currently being put into place,” Holtz-Eakin wrote.
Last Friday House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) weighed in with a nasty-gram to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius demanding extensive additional information on the development of the Stars Demo. Camp wrote, “With its most recent report, GAO has determined HHS exceeded its legal authority to implement this demonstration, which calls into question all activities surrounding the development of the (Stars Demo)”. Camp requested that Secretary Sebelius detail all communications with the “CMS Actuaries’ office, the Office of Management and Budget, the White House, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and” — wait for it — “Obama for America, which led the agency to take action related to the (Stars Demo)”. Wait, wait — did he just say that? The Obama campaign directed CMS to launch this demo? Having worked in the agency I can tell you these guys are smoking something excluded from Part D coverage.