Issa subpoenas HHS documents

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A top Republican lawmaker has subpoenaed documents related to a demonstration project at the Health and Human Services Department, claiming the program is an abuse of power being used to cover up the shortcomings of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, is seeking more information on the three-year project to provide bonuses to private health insurance plans that improve services for consumers, Fox News reported Monday. HHS delivered project-related documents to the committee last week, but Issa said it was not enough.

“It’s an unbelievable abuse of power,” Issa said last week, adding the HHS program provides funding for “what ObamaCare took away.”

The quality bonus program takes savings from reduced federal subsidies to Medicare Advantage included in the 2010 Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act and applies them to private plans that improve benefits and customer service.      

Part of the 1967 Social Securities Amendments grants the HHS Secretary broad authority to undertake demonstration projects -- that is, experimental or pilot programs -- to test new Medicare payment methodologies, according to the Government Accountability Office. In July, however, a GAO representative told a congressional hearing the demonstration would cost $8.3 billion and was the largest such project he had ever seen.

A GAO attorney added the Obama administration may not have the legal authority to carry out the demonstration.

HHS defended the project, telling Fox News it helps lower costs for Medicare Advantage patients. “The quality bonus payment demo is providing incentives to more [Medicare Advantage] plans to improve care, giving more patients high-quality choices in the program," the department said. "It is consistent with previous demos." 

Issa said the administration is simply using funds for election year politics. 

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