Oversight subpanel to scrutinize health reform waivers, malpractice

The GOP freshman put in charge of a congressional Oversight subcommittee on health says he'll use his powers to investigate waivers given to businesses or individuals for any part of the new healthcare reform law.

"If there are exemptions,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told The Hill, “what was the process by which those exemptions were sought and given?”

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“I think those are fair questions to ask,” he said, “and I expect we will.”

Gowdy, a freshman and former prosecutor, got the chairmanship on Tuesday. The health subcommittee has jurisdiction over federal health policy and food and drug safety, in addition to the District of Columbia and federal records.

Gowdy said he met with Oversight Committee staff Wednesday and immediately began planning future hearings.

His first order of business on the healthcare front, he said, will likely be investigating fraud and abuse in government healthcare programs.

“I hear staggering numbers with respect to waste, fraud and abuse,” Gowdy said, “and I would be curious whether or not any of those suspected abuses ever end up in investigations or prosecutions, and if not why not.”

He also plants to look into tort reform. “To the extent that the defensive practice of medicine contributes to the overall cost of healthcare, why would something like tort reform not be included in the healthcare reform package?,” he said.

Gowdy expects to hold his first healthcare hearing “before the end of February for certain.”

Other House committees are also probing tort reform and waivers.

The Judiciary Committee on Thursday dedicated its first hearing to medical liability reform. The healthcare reform law contains demonstration grants for states to try their own solutions, but little else.

Also Tuesday, the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting that it provide a list of every individual, organization, business, state or other entity that requested a waiver, obtained a waiver, or has been denied a waiver for any part of the reform law.


HHS had as of Dec. 3 granted annual waivers to 222 health plans covering 1.5 million workers, exempting them from the requirement that they cover up to $750,000 in patients’ healthcare costs in 2011. The waivers were given to low-value “mini-med” plans that likely would have dropped coverage if they hadn't been exempted. Republicans have suggested the waivers are used to reward political allies or are hard evidence that the law doesn’t work.

The committee's vice-chairman, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), is also a freshman. Gosar, a dentist, said the fact that conservative outsiders got the top two spots is indicative of a new tone in Washington following the mid-term elections.

“It tells us that people want a new vision and a new set of eyes and people from the ground up,” he told The Hill. “It gives a whole new perspective of what’s actually happening on the ground. I can give you stories over and over again about what transpires, because I practiced directly across from a community health center. If you think that’s functioning right, I’ve got a whole bunch more stories for you.”

The top Democrat on Gowdy’s subcommittee said he's open to working with Republicans to improve the law, but questioned how much collaboration can really take place when one of the new House’s very first actions was to repeal it.

“We want to help perfect (the healthcare system) as much as anyone does,” said eighth-term Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), “but we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water.”

“We will not be in concert with getting rid of those things that work, or making it more difficult for them to work.”