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Guess What—Dems Don't Like Medicaid Commission Picks

JULY 8, 2005 -- With just 55 days to go to complete recommendations on trimming Medicaid by $10 billion over five years, HHS announced Friday the names of members who will serve on its advisory commission on overhauling Medicaid—a list criticized by most Democrats.

While Democrats for the most part slammed the selections for missing the mark on bipartisanship, one former Democratic Hill aide praised the lineup as basically "moderate, pragmatic and thoughtful."

Named to chair the commission was former Tennessee Governor Donald Sundquist, a Republican who defended the aggressive Medicaid expansion program TennCare against cuts in the late 1990s. Sundquist pushed for passage of a tax increase and saw his political fortunes nosedive after that.

"You could say he lost the governorship defending TennCare," said one state official.

"He tried to finance it, and he got creamed for it," added a Hill aide who otherwise called the commission "stacked" in the administration's favor.

Named as co-chair was Angus King, who served as governor of Maine as an independent and also has a reputation as a moderate on Medicaid issues.

Named as voting members were Nancy Atkins, commissioner for the West Virginia for Medical Services; Melanie Bella, vice president for policy at the Center for Health Care Strategies; Gail Christopher, vice president for health at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and Gwen Gillenwater, director for advocacy at the National Council on Independent Living, an activist group representing people with disabilities who do not want to live in nursing homes.

Also named as voting members were Robert Helms, director of health policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Kay James, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Troy Justesen, deputy assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services at the U.S. Department of Education; Mike O'Grady, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS; Bill Shiebler, former president of Deutsche Bank; Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute; and Tony McCann, secretary of mental and health hygiene for the state of Maryland and a former Department of Health and Human Services budget official in the administration of former President George Bush

Ron Pollack, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Families USA called the new commission "a sham that deserves—and will receive—no credibility."

The announcement "reinforces our judgment that this Commission is designed to promote pre-determined and very destructive Medicaid changes dictated by the Bush Administration," Pollack said.

A spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Democrat John D. Dingell of Michigan said her boss had no plans to release a new statement reacting to the appointees, pointing to an earlier statement in which Dingell said the panel "falls short of the unbiased, independent advisory panel" proposed by Sens. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore. and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Bingaman said he was disappointed with the makeup of the panel. "This is a long way from the bipartisan panel I had envisioned," he said. "Any report they produce is likely to be lopsided, and therefore not a useful tool for Congress."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., author of various laws expanding Medicaid, said "today's announcement confirms that the purpose of the commission is to rubber-stamp the administration's failed Medicaid policies."

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said "six weeks is not enough time for a commission to develop the thoughtful approach that was intended."

HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt also named 15 non-voting members. They are James Anderson of the National Association of Children's Hospitals; Julianne Beckett of Family Voices, an organization that has fought for legislation allowing families of severely disabled children to buy into the Medicaid program; Carol Berkowitz, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Maggie Brooks, county executive for Monroe County in New York; and Valerie Davidson, executive vice president for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

Also named were Mark de Bruin, chairman of the policy council for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has defended current Medicaid drug payment policies; John Kemp, CEO of the Disability Service Providers of America; Joseph Marshall, CEO of the Temple University Health System; John Monohan, president of state-sponsored programs for the insurer Wellpoint; and Dr. John Nelson, who recently stepped down as president of the American Medical Association.

The other non-voting members are Joseph J. Piccione, an executive with OSF Healthcare System; Douglas Struyk, CEO of the Christian Health Care Center; Dr. Howard Weitz, a cardiologist with Thomas Jefferson University; and Joy Johnson Wilson, director of health policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Not all Democrats slammed the lineup. "My overall reaction is congratulations," said a former Hill aide. "I bet I'm the only Democrat in town saying that."

The source praised the selection of representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Children's Hospitals, and NCSL. But the former aide said what the commission will bring to congressional action on Medicaid in September is "minimal," noting that Hill aides are already putting together an overhaul plan. "They're not sitting around sucking their thumbs waiting for a commission to tell them what to do."

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