If Rep. Joe Barton becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, the Texas Republican vows to make life miserable for Democratic defenders of the health care overhaul law.
He will drag Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Donald Berwick to Capitol Hill for regular grilling….
And that’s just the beginning. Barton has a list of seven problems he intends to spotlight, including how he believes the Obama administration covered up cost estimates of the law before it was enacted, inappropriately silenced insurers from warning customers about what they believed would be rate increases and wrongly spent money on brochures touting improvements to the Medicare Advantage program even though funding is being reduced.
Key Republicans are threatening to withhold funding for overhaul initiatives and to relentlessly pursue hearings and oversight investigations to challenge administration officials’ regulations and communications with the public. Committee chairmen have subpoena power, although holding the gavel is usually enough to get officials into the witness chair.
“Oversight of the existing law will build a case for full repeal,” said Barton. “We have to aggressively work to repeal the entire bill. As part of the process, we’ll have very aggressive oversight.”
In several recent reports, the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) has cleared the administration of any wrongdoing in disseminating pamphlets about the new Medicare Advantage cuts, but the validity of the attacks are less of a concern than their practical effects on the agencies’ implementation efforts.
Whatever the success of Republicans in repealing or defunding the law, over the short term, the GOP could slow implementation to a trickle, forcing regulators to reconsider potentially controversial regulations and defend even the most benign of decisions. Republicans, who have already released numerous reports detailing reform’s “broken promises” and attributing almost every story about rising health care costs to the Affordable Care Act, will redouble their efforts as they gear up their campaign against the law. But if there is a silver lining in the coming fight it’s that the renewed focus on the ACA could give the administration another opportunity to sell reform just as some its most popular provisions go into effect.