While Republicans are still grumbling about the HHS brochure informing seniors about the benefits from the new health care law, NPR’s Julie Rovner reminds me that Democrats were complaining when the agency sent out information educating seniors about Medicare Part D:
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s almost identical to the flap that took place six years ago, except with the politcal parties in opposite roles.
Back then, it was a Republican administration trying to educate seniors about a new Medicare prescription drug law passed with mostly Republican votes. Democrats were so outraged at the time that they called for investigations by the Government Accountability Office and HHS’s own inspector General into whether the campaign was inappropriately political. “There is no purpose for these advertisements except to convince senior citizens that the Medicare bill is good for them. They are nothing more than propaganda for the Bush re-election campaign, using $23 million of the senior citizen’s own money,” said the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. [...]
In the end, those 2004 investigations did find the Bush administration’s mailings about the new drug benefit “misleading.” The GAO said the administration may also have illegally used public money to make what in effect were fake news reports about the law that did amount to propaganda.
The question now is whether this brochure can be labeled as purposely misleading. A quick reading suggests that it can’t; nor are Republicans really saying that anything is fundamentally untrue. They’re frustrated that the brochure does not include certain caveats or projects. Which is precisely the problem. Many of these benefits are not implemented until 2013 and 2014 and policymakers are relying on projections from the CBO and CMS to educate the public about the future effects of the law. The GOP can complain that the brochures don’t note very dissenting opinion, but they can’t claim that HHS is grossly misleading the public, particularly since they so vehemently defended Humana for sending unsubstantiated information about the health care law to its Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.