Medicare budget faces scrutiny as its actuary speaks out

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The Bush administration faces embarrassment and heated controversy for what appears to be deliberate withholding of internal cost estimates for the Medicare reform bill. The bill will far exceed the quoted $400 billion 10-year budget -- the budget Congress approved. The White House released numbers in January showing that spending will be closer to $534 billion.

Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, spoke out this weekend saying the higher cost projection was known before the final House and Senate votes in November. Foster said he had done several estimates showing that the cost of a Medicare drug benefit through 2013 would be $500 billion to $600 billion, according to published reports.

House Democrats have requested an inquiry by the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General. Foster and the Congressional Budget Office director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, are expected to testify next week before the House Ways and Means Committee on the Medicare estimates.