Republican lawmakers on Tuesday seized on newly released audits that suggest major record-keeping problems for Obamacare’s new health exchanges — findings that breathe new life into criticisms that the Web-based program is not secure and cannot function properly.
The Health and Human Services Department’s internal watchdog raised the red flags after it examined the federal marketplace that serves 36 states and state-run exchanges in California and Connecticut.
“The deficiencies in internal controls that we identified may have limited the marketplace’s ability to prevent the use of inaccurate or fraudulent information when determining eligibility of applicants for enrollment,” HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson said in his report.
In a separate report, his office found the federal marketplace was unable to resolve 2.6 million out of 2.9 million application inconsistencies because the administration’s eligibility system was not fully operational — a bright-line finding that GOP lawmakers decried as “appalling.”
“A nearly 90 percent failure rate is absolutely preposterous and disgraceful,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said. “But sadly, this too will likely fall on deaf ears for an administration that continues to pour scarce taxpayer dollars down the bottomless well of Obamacare.”
A 2014 spending bill mandated HHS auditors to submit a report on Obamacare’s applicant controls no later than July 1. In both reports, the inspector general reviewed applicants from the first three months of enrollment, or October through December of last year, when the federal HealthCare.gov had notable tech problems.
For its part, the administration said it has acknowledged its early hurdles and is improving by the day.
“It’s not news that healthcare.gov had tech and data issues at the outset, but we’ve come a long way since then. CMS is working expeditiously to resolve inconsistencies to make sure individuals and families get the tax credits and coverage they deserve and that no one receives a benefit they shouldn’t,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “We are actively reaching out to consumers to provide additional information that supports their application for coverage and verifying their information every day.”
While the government did a few things well — its systems could tell if applicants were in prison — the federal marketplace could not validate Social Security numbers in all cases, the California exchange had problems with citizenship verification, and Connecticut struggled to identify phone applicants, according to the IG.
The marketplaces had trouble resolving inconsistencies in whether applicants were eligible for Obamacare’s plans and benefits.
“Sadly, the most consistent part of the health law’s implementation has been the millions of ‘inconsistencies’ without a system in place to address them,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican.
The federal government and the states agreed with most, but not all, of the inspector general’s recommendations to improve their systems.
According to CMS, it contacts people with inconsistencies multiple times through various means. It also noted that inconsistencies frequently do not amount to errors that will bar enrollment. For example, a 2012 tax return may not match an applicant’s salary if he or she has switched jobs since the IRS record was created.
Still, the political fallout from the new reports was immediate.
“Once again, we are provided further evidence that Obamacare is not working,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican. “In fact, the administration is relying on nothing more than the honor system to run a billion-dollar program.”