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CQ Roll Call: GOP Presses for Information on Health Law Exchanges

By Melissa Attias
June 3, 2014 

House Republicans continue to scrutinize the rollout of the health care law, sending two letters to the Obama administration Tuesday requesting information about funding for the state-run health insurance exchanges and details about those set up for small businesses.

GOP leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighting the price tag of a number of state exchanges that have faced operational problems. The lawmakers said HHS has provided at least $1.3 billion for state exchanges “that have failed or are so flawed that they require substantial modification,” citing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, brought up the issue of whether states that received federal money and did not launch successful exchanges should be required to pay back the government at a confirmation hearing last month for Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Sebelius.

Burwell said she would want to learn more about the specifics of each of the cases, but that where federal funds were misused “we need to use the full extent of the law to get those funds back for the taxpayer.”

According to the House letter, the department provided at least $746 million to date to four state exchanges in Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon and Nevada that have been shut down, while the exchanges in Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont are expected to be discarded or require expensive changes. The Republicans also noted that some states may request additional money to improve their exchanges or create new ones, or move to the federal exchange.

“Just when you thought the situation could not get any worse with Americans enduring rising premiums, cancelled plans, and limited health care coverage, we learn more than $1 billion of taxpayer dollars has been squandered on broken websites in just seven states,” said Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., in a statement. “And the exchanges in the seven states, none of which have delivered on their promise, now demand even more taxpayer dollars to be fixed or completely rebuilt. A billion dollars is a steep price to pay for incompetence.”

The lawmakers are asking for a range of information by June 18, including a list of the employees and federal offices that were responsible for distributing funds to state-run exchanges, a description of the award process and a list of meetings between government representatives and counterparts from a state exchange.

They also want any documents related to a state exchange’s status and all state requests for funding linked to building exchanges.

In addition, the Republicans requested a briefing by June 18 with the individuals from HHS, CMS and the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight with responsibility for the state exchange projects in Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon and Nevada. The letter was signed by Upton, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Joe L. Barton and Michael C. Burgess of Texas, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Also on Tuesday, the chairman of the House Small Business Committee sent a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner following up on a request for enrollment numbers in the small business exchanges that he sent to Sebelius in January. Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., said Sebelius’ March response stated that “the metrics you requested are not currently available” and he noted that he is still concerned that the information has not been assembled or released.

Graves is asking for the small business and employee enrollment numbers in the federal and each state Small Business Health Options Program and the breakdown of who has paid their first premiums. His other requests include the date that the federal small business exchange and each state SHOP will be fully operational, including the delayed capacity for online enrollment.