Chairman probing healthcare reform shoots down Dem's oversight criticism

The chairman of a powerful House panel investigating the healthcare reform law on Friday fired back at a Democrat’s accusation that the new Republican majority is abusing oversight powers for political gain.

On Thursday, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) accused Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) of going on a “fishing expedition” for making what he described as “extensive requests” into the reform law without factual basis for suspicion. Since taking control of the panel a little less than a month ago, Republicans have announced several investigations into the implementation of healthcare reform.

“We believe it is entirely appropriate to demand transparency from the Administration that has promised it will be the most open and transparent in history,” Upton wrote on Friday, criticizing Democrats on the committee’s Oversight subpanel for not holding a hearing on implementation of the reform law in the previous Congress.

In his Thursday letter, Waxman agreed with the need for oversight to combat waste, fraud and abuse, but accused Republicans of going too far. For example, Waxman said asking the Department of Health and Human Services for internal communications about reform law waivers without “any evidence of misconduct” was improper and would hinder the department’s ability to function.

Upton shot back at the claim Friday.

“If the HHS bureaucracy can handle monitoring every doctor and patient relationship in the United States, it can handle a simple request for documents from an American public hungering to finally know the details about the Administration's health care takeover,” he wrote.

Upton also needled Waxman for misstating the number of waivers that have been granted to organizations for a provision setting annual coverage limits. Waxman said 222 organizations were granted waivers, but HHS announced late last month new waivers that brought the total up to 729.

“Thus, HHS has apparently granted more than three times as many waivers as you cite in the letter,” Upton wrote. “This fact alone underscores the dire need for oversight of the health care law, its effects, and its implementation by this Administration."

Upton also noted that Waxman last year asked Caterpillar’s top official for extensive documents after he said the healthcare reform law would damage the company’s ability to offer healthcare coverage.

The argument continued Friday afternoon, with Waxman defending his position in a reponse to the Upton letter. 

"Our Committee’s requests should be tailored to our legitimate oversight needs," Waxman wrote Friday afternoon. "Otherwise we will waste taxpayer resources and interfere with the ability of the Department to carry out the new law."

This article was updated at 1:08 p.m. with Waxman's response.