Medicare Cost Cover-up?

An election year battle over the new Medicare law reached a fever pitch.
There are charges now the Bush administration is selling the program to the public in a very misleading way – and misled Congress about the true cost of the program, reports CBS Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

It passed by only a few votes -- and now there is evidence it took more than political armtwisting to get the President's prescription drug plan through.

An e-mail -- obtained by CBS News -- appears to show the White House was anxious to hide ballooning cost estimates. Sent on behalf of former Medicare administrator Tom Scully, it warns the agency's chief actuary, Rick Foster to not tell Congress the price tag would be well above the White House's stated 400 billion.

Foster is told "the consequences for insubordination are extremely severe"....

Democrats -- who want another vote on the bill -- are outraged.

"In the United States of America, in our democracy, there is no place for silencing the truth that belongs to the American people,'' said Bush's Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry.

Democrats' calls for an investigation into the pressure tactics have so far gone unheeded. But today, they did get an investigation of a bogus news story put out by the administration to promote the Medicare reform and prescription drug bill.

The so-called Video News Release or VNR - sent to TV stations across the country, uses actors to portray journalists and report on the benefits of the plan.

"This is the government putting out propaganda and trying to make it look like a news report, look like valid independent news. And that's very disturbing role for the government to play,'' says Lary Noble, with the Center For Responsive Politics.

VNRs have been around for decades, including by the Clinton administration.

But in this high stakes election year, on such a highly charged issue, their use has government investigators looking into whether they cross the line between promotion and propaganda.

The administration defended the Video News Release as strictly informational -- totally appropriate. And they now say they, too, want to know if and why Foster was silenced on the program's cost -- three months after the bill was signed into law.

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