Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Thursday asked the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate whether the government is paying the right amount of subsidies under Obamacare to help low-income people buy health insurance.
In May, it was reported that HHS may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million people, and had no way of determining the right amounts. Under the law, the government is supposed to verify that a person makes below a certain amount of money before subsidies can be approved.
The lack of a verification system sets up the potential for billions of dollars of overpayments at the taxpayers’ expense.
Those reports came out just a few months after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius certified to Congress that officials were verifying people’s income levels before handing out subsidies. Republicans already had their doubts about that, as they had warned that these income verification procedures were not in place.
When press reports confirmed that suspicion, one House Republican said Congress needs to quickly pass legislation that requires these income verification procedures to be fully in place before any subsidy payments are made.
On Thursday, Portman said an investigation is also warranted.
“Secretary Sebelius… told Congress that the exchanges had ‘implemented numerous systems and processes to carry out’ their verification responsibilities — including their income verification responsibilities,” Portman wrote. “Because $36 billion in taxpayer dollars are at stake this year alone, the American people deserve to know the extent to which the Secretary’s certifications were accurate.”
Portman said he’s asked HHS for more details about this, but that his questions have gone unanswered. As a result, he asked the Inspector General answer five key questions. These include whether healthcare exchanges are verifying income levels, how that process works, and how the federal exchange and state-level exchanges are implementing this requirement.
Portman also asked how the exchanges’ interim verification processes are working. Press reports indicated that because no computer system was up and running, officials were trying to verify people’s income by hand, one person at a time.
Finally, Portman asked whether HHS asked people to delay the implementation of income verification systems. Portman says he suspects these systems were delayed on purpose in order to boost Obamacare’s enrollment numbers.
Read Portman’s letter here: