GOP Sens: HHS Nominees On Hold Until Humana Issue Resolved
U.S. Senate Republican leaders Thursday said they would stall
confirmations of Health and Human Services officials until the
Obama administration rescinds a recent order that stems from a
controversy surrounding health insurance giant Humana, Inc.
In a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen
Sebelius, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and seven other
Senate Republicans called for the administration to remove what it
called a "gag order" on health insurance companies. The move comes
after Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, told
insurers Monday to "suspend potentially misleading mailings to
beneficiaries about health care and insurance reform."
The senators warn that, until CMS reverses its actions, they
"will not consent to time agreements on the confirmation of any
nominees" to the Department of Health and Human Services and
At issue is a probe of Humana's marketing practices by Centers
for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency on Sept. 18 ordered
Humana to cease telling its enrollees to call their lawmakers about
proposed cuts to privately run Medicare plans, known as Medicare
Medicare officials pointed to letters from Humana to Medicare
Advantage customers suggesting that, under health-care legislation
pushed by Democrats, seniors and those with disabilities "could
lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare
Advantage health plans so valuable."
Medicare officials said the letters were "misleading and
confusing to beneficiaries." Humana agreed to end the mailing, but
the issue brewed in Congress as Republicans suggested CMS unfairly
If Senate Republicans declined to cooperate on the confirmation
of HHS officials, debate on the officials would take days and
consume valuable time in the Senate. Under normal circumstances,
votes occur on administration officials after a short debate, or
the officials are confirmed without debate or a roll-call vote.
According to a Senate Republican aide, five HHS officials have
been nominated but await confirmation, while another five positions
at HHS that require confirmation are vacant.
The CMS actions have occurred as the Senate Finance Committee
debates health insurance legislation sponsored by its chairman,
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Republicans on the panel have made a push
for proposed cuts in payment rates to Medicare Advantage to be
The White House has maintained Democratic health-care
legislation would not result in benefit cuts to Medicare
beneficiaries. At a senior citizens' center in Maryland Wednesday,
Vice President Joe Biden suggested Republicans had done an
about-face on Medicare after advocating for cuts to the program in
the 1980s and 1990s.
"You'll continue to be able to get Medicare Advantage if that's
what you choose," Biden said. "All we're doing is just cutting the
padding out of the subsidies that insurance companies are already
-By Patrick Yoest, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-3554;