Thursday, June 15, 2006

HHS Secretary Used Business Jet Meant for Emergencies to Stump for Medicare Drug Benefit Plan

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is this story about US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Mike Leavitt's use of "luxury Gulfstream III" business jet. It seems "Leavitt defended his use of the jet to visit more than 90 cities this year to promote the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and appear at state pandemic flu meetings." "Leavitt has used the jet to make 19 trips involving more than 90 cities, a total of 202 flight hours...." However, although Congress authorized Leavitt to use the jet, Representative Pete Stark (D-California), said "Congress' intent clearly was for Leavitt to use the jet in emergencies, not for public relations." "Taxpayers pay $252,000 a month for the CDC to have 24-hour access to the jet. It costs an additional $3,000 for every hour it's flown." Yet, "during two emergencies, Leavitt was using the jet and the CDC had to use a backup plane from its aircraft vendor."

"Leavitt said it would have been impossible to complete the 'breathaking challenge' of signing up millions of senior citizens for the drug benefit without using the jet." That's funny, I had not heard that it was Leavitt's job to personally sign up beneficiaries. Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia) felt strongly, saying, "I think this is unbelievably irresponsible and just dead wrong."

How undignified would it be for a cabinet secretary to fly around the country in commercial airliners, mixed in with ordinary tourists, middle managers, and physicians going to conferences. Some of those fellow passengers might even be eligible for Medicare. He might also actually have to eat some of those little pretzels out of the plastic bags, what an indignity. Shouldn't the Secretary of HHS feel entitled to live the luxury life-style? Remember, health care leaders are different from you and me, or so they would like to think.

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