HHS Secretary Campaigns For Medicare Drug Plan Using Private Jet Reserved For Emergencies

An investigative report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today finds that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has been commandeering a private jet, intended to be used for public emergencies, to campaign for the Medicare prescription drug plan.

Leavitt used the emergency jet to travel to 90 cities in order to promote the Medicare prescription drug plan and to make appearances at pandemic flu meetings. Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense, said, “This is a gold-plated jet to promote a boondoggle of a prescription plan,” Ashdown said. “He’s getting the CDC to pay for his own personal political travel.”

Leavitt’s use of the jet has had consequences:

During two of the CDC’s emergencies, Leavitt was traveling on the Gulfstream III jet, requiring the agency to use another plane.

The first emergency involved an individual who contracted anthrax. A second instance resulted from persons being subjected to radioactive material in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In both cases, CDC had to dispatch other planes because its emergency plane was being used for non-emergency purposes by Leavitt.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said, “It is mind-boggling that the secretary would commandeer for his own personal convenience a jet that is supposed to be used by CDC for public health emergencies.” Leavitt countered that the private jet was essential for accomplishing the “breathtaking challenge” of signing up millions of senior citizens for the new drug benefit before the May 15 deadline.