HHS Secretary Leavitt Names Medicaid Panel

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has announced the selection of voting and non-voting members of the Medicaid Commission. The Commission, which Democrats have boycotted and characterized as a sham, will have eight weeks to suggest ways to shave $10 billion from Medicaid over the next five years and come up with long-term strategies for shoring up the program.

The panel, created as part of the U.S. Congress' budget resolution, is scheduled to deliver its first report by September 1. The second report is planned for December 31.

Former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist (R), who now works as a lobbyist and consultant, will be the Commission's chairman. Angus King, a former independent governor of Maine, was named vice-chair.

Rep. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who proposed the creation of the panel, said, "This is a long way from the bipartisan panel I had envisioned. Any report they produce is likely to be lopsided and therefore not a useful tool for Congress."

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the commission was "a sham that deserves -- and will receive -- no credibility." He added that Leavitt's announcement "reinforces our judgment that this commission is designed to promote pre-determined and very destructive Medicaid changes dictated by the Bush administration."

Sundquist's Qualifications Questioned

Some have found Sundquist, who was Tennessee's governor from 1995 to 2003, to be a curious choice as chairman. Michele Johnson, an attorney with the Tennessee Justice Center, said, "It is startling -- breathtaking -- that he would be in charge of a Medicaid commission."

In 2002, Sundquist removed almost 200,000 impoverished Tenneseeans from the state's Medicaid rolls, a move later found to have been a violation of federal Medicaid regulations. Also during Sundquist's tenure, his administration was involved in a scandal in which the state of Tennessee illegally diverted federal Medicaid funds to other uses.

Tennessee Democrats and patient advocates also blame Sundquist for many problems currently plaguing TennCare, the state's troubled Medicaid program.

State Sen. Doug Jackson (D), co-chair of the state Legislature's TennCare Oversight Committee, said, "It's the blind leading the blind. I'm in amazement that the White House does not know [Sundquist's] track record on Medicaid issues here, where he demonstrated a very shallow depth of knowledge. He left the TennCare program in a disastrous position. The decisions he made were fundamentally flawed."

Most of the other voting members of the commission reportedly have close ties to the Bush administration. The other members are:

  • Nancy Atkins, commissioner for the Bureau for Medical Services in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources;
  • Melanie Bella, vice president for policy at the Center for Health Care Strategies;
  • Gail Christopher, vice president for health, women and families at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and director of the Joint Center Health Policy Institute;
  • Gwen Gillenwater, director for advocacy and public policy at the National Council on Independent Living;
  • Robert Helms, a resident scholar and director of health policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute;
  • Kay James, a former director of the Office of Personnel Management;
  • Troy Justesen, deputy assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services at the Department of Education;
  • Tony McCann, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene;
  • Mike O'Grady, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS;
  • Bill Shiebler, former president of Deutsche Bank; and
  • Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute.

The Commission's first meeting will take place on July 27, 2005, at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. A public comment period will precede the Commission's deliberations, and an "open public session" will follow, "for any attendee to address issues specific to the topic." The time has not yet been announced.

For an article on the commission in the Kaiser Family Foundation's Daily Health Policy Report, click here.

For an article in Reuters, click here.