July 21 2015
After the Supreme Court’s bizarre decision validating the IRS’ illegal Obamacare rule, Congress is opening a new chapter in the debate over the health overhaul law by focusing on oversight and investigations to protect taxpayers and the rule of law.
Action is underway in Congress:
The Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is holding a hearing this Friday to examine the ACA’s state exchanges and will question witnesses about documented reports of mismanagement, broken promises, and wasted taxpayer dollars.
Chairman Rep. Tim Murphy, R-PA, said, “The administration’s mismanagement of the president’s signature health care law not only led to a HealthCare.gov meltdown on day one, several states were awarded more than $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars without seemingly any oversight and management from the administration, leaving a trail of broken systems across the country…We will remain steadfast in our oversight of this broken law as we continue our efforts to protect Americans from its costly consequences.”
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last week to examine enrollment controls in the federal government’s ObamaCare website, healthcare.gov. In an undercover investigation, the Government Accountability Office created fictitious identities to apply for premium tax subsidies through healthcare.gov. Eleven out of 12 fake applications were approved, and fabricated documents were accepted without any attempts to verify their authenticity.
Chairman Orrin Hatch said the website “failed spectacularly” in protecting against fraud and that “encountered mind-boggling levels of incompetence and inefficiency at nearly every turn” as it conducted undercover enrollment.
No effort is made on the website to detect fraudulent enrollments, and Sen. Hatch observed: “it seems obvious, at least to me, that the administration is preoccupied with signing up as many applicants as possible, ignoring potential fraud and integrity issues.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the estimated cost of subsidies and related spending under the act is $28 billion for fiscal year 2015, rising to $103 billion for fiscal year 2025, and totaling $849 billion for fiscal years 2016–2025.
The House Ways and Means Committee’s Oversight subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-IL, held a hearing in late June on the effects of Obamacare on health premiums. The president’s promise to cut the typical family’s premium by about $2,500 a year has been disgracefully broken, with consumers not seeing cuts but instead dramatic increases in their health insurance premiums.
In May, Roskam held a hearing to examine the use of administrative actions in implementing health law. The Galen Institute testified about our research that shows the administration has illegally changed the law now at least 34 times. A witness siding with the administration withered under the chairman’s questions focusing on the administration’s abuse of the rule of law.
Special Inspector General: Chairman Roskam has introduced legislation calling for a Special Inspector General for Monitoring the Affordable Care Act (SIGMA) to investigate the administration’s actions and track how tens of billions of dollars have been spent. Implementation of the sweeping and complex law stretches across eight separate federal agencies so no one agency Inspector General can see the patterns and possible abuses taking place.
Hadley Heath Manning of the Independent Women’s Forum argues, “Democrats may hesitate to support more oversight of a program that they created. Yet if they truly want this law to succeed, they ought to want to prevent the misuse of resources and ensure a clear record of the law’s implementation.”
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: The Oregon exchange fiasco deserves particular congressional attention as a poster child of wasted taxpayer dollars. Oregon began with an ambitious agenda: Flush with federal grants, it not only planned to create its own state health care exchange – the “Cover Oregon” portal through which people could shop for and purchase subsidized health insurance – but also to fully modernize the information technology infrastructure for all of its health care programs.
Numerous reports and emails show Cover Oregon was fraught with mismanagement and political maneuverings, and the state abandoned the site last year after spending more than $300 million in federal tax dollars. The state is now embroiled in lawsuits with its primary vendor, Oracle, and current and former Oregon officials are the subject of congressional and other federal investigations. There is ample material here for other committees of jurisdiction to investigate this poster-child failure.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is demanding all communication about the Oregon site between employees of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), all documents related to the site’s functioning, and a description of changes CMS made to its processes on grants and information technology related to federal and state ObamaCare websites.
The committee also contacted former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in February to request documents related to involvement in Cover Oregon by members of his campaign team. The committee wants to know whether decisions about the exchange “may have been based on politics not policy and campaign advisors working on your re-election campaign may have coordinated the state’s response to the Cover Oregon roll-out.” Any subpoenas will need to include both official and g-mail communications among all political consultants involved with Cover Oregon.
Chaffetz told the Washington Times, “[T]here is a curious crossover between the political and the executive branch in Oregon, and it doesn’t smell right, and it doesn’t look right and there’s a lot of smoke. There are hundreds of millions of dollars that need to be accounted for. It’s highly suspicious, and we intend to get to the bottom of it.”
Emails uncovered so far show that Kitzhaber handed oversight of Cover Oregon to re-election campaign consultant charged with rescuing the governor from the political fallout from the state’s fatally flawed management of the project. The governor tried to cover up the evidence by trying to have relevant emails deleted from state servers before he resigned early this year.
Confirmation hearings: Sen. Hatch also sent a warning signal that he plans to challenge President Obama’s nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Andy Slavitt, about his involvement in the healthcare.gov exchange fiasco.
Slavitt “was personally involved in this process,” Hatch said, referring to the federal website. “As the committee considers his nomination, I look forward to asking Mr. Slavitt about this investigation and why CMS has been interfering with our oversight efforts.” He would be well advised to ask about the billions of dollars shelled out to state exchanges as well, including Oregon.
Co-op fiasco: Finally, an under-reported waste of taxpayer dollars deserves congressional attention – the co-op boondoggle.The ACA created the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (co-op) program to satisfy supporters of the “public option” health plan.
This grand experiment has primarily shown the fallacy of giving $2.4 billion in taxpayer dollars to people who know nothing about the health insurance market. All but one of the 23 co-ops created are operating in the red. Other investigations have shown that executives of these “consumer-directed non-profits” were paying themselves lavish salaries, from nearly $250,000 to nearly $600,000 a year.
Congress has few tools in its arsenal to make major changes to the law as long as it faces the president’s veto pen. But it can spend the next 18 months investigating the Obama administration’s reckless use of taxpayer dollars in implementing the law to convince the American people of the imperative to repair the damage with new policies that return market power to consumers.