- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

Leading Senate Republicans pressed the administration Monday to explain how it plans to recoup $2.4 billion in loans to Obamacare’s flailing co-op program and whether consumers will be able to get new coverage without significant hiccups.

Officials in Arizona announced Friday that its co-op will close in 2016, meaning nearly half of the 23 programs set up under the Affordable Care Act have failed.

“These non-profit, consumer-run health plans were intended to improve coverage, increase competition, and provide more affordable options. The CO-OPs are not living up to these expectations,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, wrote in a letter to Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Their push comes one day before House Republicans kick off a pair of hearing on the co-ops’ woes, which have energized Obamacare’s critics right as the administration kicks off the law’s third round of signups on its web-based marketplace.

The co-ops, or Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, were supposed to offer a consumer-oriented alternative to big-business insurance companies when the Affordable Care Act began to offer subsidized coverage on the exchanges in January 2014.

Pundits warned they would have a hard time competing for market share, and government auditors found that to be the case in many states, leading many to close up shop.

“As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose their health insurance plans and will have to scramble to find new plans, most likely with higher premiums and deductibles,” Mr. Hatch and Mr. Alexander wrote.

A pair of House hearings this week will delve into the failure of co-ops in in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Nevada, Tennessee, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah.

The Ways and Means Committee will grill Mandy Cohen, the chief of staff at CMS, on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from Ms. Cohen and the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which said the co-ops lost hundreds of millions of dollars in their first year and didn’t attract anywhere near as many customers as they had hoped, meaning they could default.

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, has said he will block any new nominees to HHS until the agency explains how the co-ops spent their taxpayer-funded loans, and whether they’ll be repaid.

“The taxpayers who paid billions in loans deserve answers,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Lincoln Journal-Star. “Confirming new HHS nominees before that happens would be irresponsible and cruel. We have an obligation to get those answers.”

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