Republicans criticize Obama administration brochure on health-care overhaul

By David S. Hilzenrath
Friday, May 28, 2010

As the secretary of health and human services explains it, the government has an obligation to spread the word about the new health-care law. To that end, the department spent millions of dollars printing a glossy brochure and mailing it this week to 40 million Medicare beneficiaries detailing what Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called "the facts."

Among the facts:

There are "Improvements in Medicare You Will See Right Away." There are "Improvements in Medicare You Will See Soon." There are "Improvements Beyond Medicare That You and Your Family Can Count On." And that's not all: These improvements "will provide you and your family greater savings and increased quality health care."

Not surprisingly, Republicans see it differently. In Washington's political hothouse, one person's recitation of the facts is another's "gross misuse of taxpayer funds to provide biased information for political purposes."

That's the way Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and several colleagues put it. On the House side, senior Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee have called for an investigation, saying the brochure violates a legal ban on government propaganda.

The bitter year-long battle over health-care legislation has become an inch-by-inch, word-by-word war for public opinion in which features of the legislation are being trumpeted, spun, counter-spun, and spat upon. It's a contest in which no boast goes unanswered, and no sign of progress is too small to ballyhoo.

On Thursday, Sebelius held a news conference to issue another progress report on implementation of the health-care law. The news: The first $250 rebate checks for Medicare beneficiaries caught in the so-called prescription drug "doughnut hole" will go out June 10, five days earlier than planned.

What voters ultimately conclude could help determine the outcome of the fall elections and the balance of power in Congress.

Sebelius publicized the brochure at a news conference Wednesday with the House's top Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

"One of our top jobs is to clear up confusion and correct misinformation about health reform. This brochure . . . is a good place to start," Pelosi said.

"At the Department of Health and Human Services, it's our responsibility to get the word to seniors about what the facts are involving this critical benefit program," Sebelius added.

The brochure was prepared by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency within HHS, said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the acting administrator of CMS. Sebelius was involved and the White House was consulted, Tavenner said. It was paid for out of the budget for Medicare beneficiary information and outreach, she said. CMS spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said the brochure was mailed to 40 million households at a cost of 45 cents each. That adds up to $18,000,000.

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