WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today restated his commitment to serious, substantive, and substantial oversight of the executive branch, industry, and all matters within the committee’s purview. Upton’s comments come in response to a letter sent yesterday by the panel’s Ranking Member, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), which objected to information and document requests recently made by the committee. Chairman Upton yesterday sent a letter that responds directly to Rep. Waxman’s concerns; a copy is available below.
“Oversight is a core congressional responsibility, as our former chairman well knows,” said Upton today. “Seeking basic information about how federal agencies are spending billions in taxpayer dollars and reshaping our health care system is hardly a fishing expedition, but if the minority insists on such metaphors, I will be the first to declare that this committee intends to cast its net far and wide. From health care reform and energy security to communications freedom and consumer protections, we will root out waste, fraud, and abuse in government, expose abuses under the law, and provide accountability for taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Small guppy or big fish, no agency is exempt and no issue area is off limits from our commitment to conduct responsible oversight.”
Committee Inquiries Regarding Health Care
Waxman specifically objected to what he described as a “flurry” of four (4) requests for information regarding the health care law. The first letter, which was sent by the committee on January 20, 2011, requested information on the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO). The inquiry specifically asks for documents and information about the office’s authority, structure, and recent decisions to grant widespread waivers of the health care law’s requirements.
Less than a week after the committee requested information from CCIIO, that office announced that it had in fact granted a total of 733 waivers exempting health care plans from the expansive new mandates under the law.
Responding to Waxman’s criticism of the inquiry into health care waivers, Upton wrote:
“You state in your letter that HHS has already made public certain information related to the 222 waivers HHS has granted thus far to unions and businesses in order to protect them from the economically devastating effects of the health care reform law. However, it is our understanding that HHS has in fact granted over 700 such waivers. Thus, HHS has apparently granted more than three times as many waivers as you cite in your letter. This fact alone underscores the dire need for oversight of the health care law, its effects, and its implementation by this Administration.”
The other requests for information include a January 25 letter seeking details on the $5 billion Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) created under the health care law, and two letters sent on February 2 requesting information on the agency’s use of a new $1 billion Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund (HIRI) as well as its use of $400 million allocated by the 2009 stimulus package for comparative effectiveness research.
A copy of Chairman Upton’s response is available online here and included in its entirety below.
February 3, 2011
The Honorable Henry Waxman
Committee on Energy and Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives
2322A Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Ranking Member Waxman:
Thank you for your letter concerning our recent requests for information from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I agree with the point made in your letter – that vigorous oversight of the Executive Branch is necessary to identify waste, fraud, and abuse. We do not believe, however, that oversight of those responsible for drastically changing the health care of every American crosses a line. We believe it is entirely appropriate to demand transparency from the Administration that has promised it will be the most open and transparent in history.
I would note that in the 111th Congress, the Democratic majority refused to hold a single hearing in the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) or its implementation. This refusal to conduct even the most basic oversight of the government takeover of the private health care industry was not due to a lack of available subjects. During the months following passage of the bill, the American people were subjected to rising premiums, increased costs, employers that were considering ending their health care coverage, unpopular policies secretly inserted into regulations without public comment, insurers exiting the market altogether, and the need to exempt many businesses from the disastrous effects of the PPACA. Yet this Committee remained silent.
I disagree with your belief that it is disruptive to ask for communications between officials at HHS regarding this important issue. Last year the Democratic majority opted to place HHS in charge of the health care of every single American. If the HHS bureaucracy can handle monitoring every doctor and patient relationship in the United States, it can handle a simple request for documents from an American public hungering to finally know the details about the Administration’s health care takeover.
You state in your letter that HHS has already made public certain information related to the 222 waivers HHS has granted thus far to unions and businesses in order to protect them from the economically devastating effects of the health care reform law. However, it is our understanding that HHS has in fact granted over 700 such waivers. Thus, HHS has apparently granted more than three times as many waivers as you cite in your letter. This fact alone underscores the dire need for oversight of the health care law, its effects, and its implementation by this Administration.
The letters to which you object ask for very basic information regarding the effectiveness of the health care law. The Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services previously estimated that the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan program (referenced in your letter) would result in approximately 375,000 people gaining coverage in 2010. News reports indicated that at the end of 2010 only 8,000 people had enrolled. Certainly this is a topic that must be discussed, and we certainly hope that the internal discussions at HHS will shed light on why HHS seems to have so badly misjudged the effectiveness of this program. The American people deserve to know this information so that they can come to their own conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the health care law. Finally, it is entirely appropriate to ask HHS how they are spending the substantial amount of money allotted to the Department to implement the PPACA and comparative effectiveness research. The American people deserve to know that their money is being spent properly.
Finally, we note that you yourself have previously sent out document request letters which contain request language which is nearly identical to the language of which you now complain. For ease of reference we have attached one such sample.
Last November the American people made clear that they wanted a House of Representatives that would conduct extensive oversight over this Administration after two years of silence. I intend to follow their instructions.
cc: The Honorable Cliff Stearns, Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
The Honorable Joseph R. Pitts, Chairman
Subcommittee on Health
The Honorable Diana DeGette, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
The Honorable Frank Pallone, Jr., Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Health