White House Refuses House Request for Health Care Records

White House Refuses House Request for Health Care Records
May 2, 2011

When President Obama took office, he promised his White House would be “the most open and transparent in history.” Some House Republicans, however, are dismayed the promise doesn’t extend to records about whom the Obama administration met with in crafting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

In mid-February the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI), sent a letter to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle requesting information about the White House Office of Health Reform (WHOHR). Upton, joined by committee members Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Michael Burgess (R-TX), requested lists of the employees of the WHOHR and their salaries and the members of the public who met with members of the office, and copies of their notes of meetings and communications such as e-mails between the White House and outside groups.

“We are both concerned and disappointed by the administration’s refusal to provide this valuable information,” the congressmen wrote. “The defense that our request is too ‘vast and expensive’ seems to indicate that there have been more secret meetings than we originally thought. Our concern is further compounded by recent press reports that the White House held meetings at a Caribou Coffee shop in order to avoid listing visitors on Secret Service logs, which are part of the public record.”

Although the White House publishes records of visitors online, any meetings with lobbyists and WHOHR personnel in other locations, such as a coffee shop, would not have been disclosed.

No Right to Know?
The ranking Democrat of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman (D-CA), expressed his disagreement with Rep. Upton in a letter to the chairman: “I do not believe your oversight powers justify going on fishing expeditions or making extensive requests for internal e-mails and other communications where there is no evidence of waste, fraud or abuse of any kind.”

Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation, disagrees, noting the White House cut a variety of deals with interest groups in order to secure their support for passage of PPACA.

“It would be interesting to know who the White House met with. It would be interesting to know what kinds of deals were cut,” Matthews said.

Matthews cited the Congressional investigation into AARP’s support of this legislation and asked, “Was AARP lobbying to have Medicare Advantage damaged by the Act? Would that help AARP?”

Recalling the Clinton administration’s attempt to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill, Matthews points out the large health care groups were on board with Clinton’s bill at the beginning but turned against it during the legislative process.

“That didn’t happen with PPACA,” said Matthews. “This may be because of deals that were cut between the White House and these interest groups.”

The White House has refused to respond to Chairman Upton’s letter.

Marc Kilmer (mkilmer@mdpolicy.org) is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.