Watchdog says Obamacare exchanges not working

Watchdog says Obamacare exchanges not working

HEALTHCARE HEADACHES:The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General said in two reports that some "internal controls" were ineffective in verifying eligibility at the marketplaces run by the federal government, California, Connecticut and some other states. Photo: Associated Press

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Online insurance marketplaces created under President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law are struggling to verify whether Americans who applied for government subsidies to purchase health insurance are actually qualified to receive them, a federal watchdog agency said on Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General said in two reports that some “internal controls” were ineffective in verifying eligibility at the marketplaces run by the federal government, California, Connecticut and some other states.

Applicants for subsidies must enter income data, Social Security numbers and other information into the online systems. The maximum household income allowed for a subsidy is four times the federal poverty level, or about $94,200 for a family of four.

“The deficiencies in internal controls that we identified may have limited the marketplaces’ ability to prevent the use of inaccurate or fraudulent information when determining eligibility of applicants for enrollment in qualified health plans,” the inspector general said.

The reports mark the second potential setback in two days to the 2010 healthcare law. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday limited its mandate to provide universal contraception coverage for women.

The HHS inspector general’s findings, dismissed by the White House as based on ‘outdated information,’ prompted fresh complaints from Republicans in Congress, whose attention in recent weeks had been redirected to other issues in the runup to November’s mid-term elections.

“When Obamacare was passed, its chief architects told us they would have to pass the bill to find out what was in it,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. “Today’s report confirms what we knew was not included: safeguards to protect hard-earned taxpayer dollars from an incompetent bureaucracy.”

The California marketplace had difficulties verifying citizenship and lawful presence, while the federal marketplace had difficulty verifying Social Security numbers, the inspector general said.

A companion report found that the federal and some state insurance marketplaces could not, in their early months of operation, resolve most inconsistencies between applicants’ self-supplied information and data received through other federal sources, most commonly citizenship and income levels.

The federal marketplace was unable to resolve 2.6 million of 2.9 million inconsistencies as of the first quarter of 2014, because of systems not fully operational from October through December last year.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the inspector general reports as being based largely on “outdated information” from late 2013, when the Obamacare website was struggling to function properly.

He said more work needs to be done to resolve inconsistencies, such as slight variations on a person’s name between federal databases, but these do not necessarily indicate problems with applications that have been submitted.

“We are confident the vast majority of these inconsistencies will be reconciled,” Earnest said.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that owners of private companies can object on religious grounds to an Affordable Care Act provision that requires them to provide insurance covering certain kinds of birth control for women.

(Reporting by David Lawder, with; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Gunna Dickson)

Recent Headlines

in Black Friday, National

WATCH: How holiday shopping can help charities


In the frenzy of holiday shopping, consumers are doing more than getting great deals, they’re also using coupons to help raise money for a number of worthy causes.

in Black Friday, National

Thanksgiving getaway: Cheap gas, high security


Millions of Americans embarked on their annual Thanksgiving travels on Wednesday, with security at airports, New York City's parade festivities and other venues expected to be heightened amid jitters after the Paris attacks.

in Sports

Rangers replace Maple Leafs atop hockey’s most valuable list


The Rangers, who return to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2004, were valued at $1.2 billion

in National

2015 to be the hottest year in history


This year will be the hottest on record and 2016 could be hotter due to the El Niño weather pattern, the World Meteorological Organization said.

in National, World

Many House Republicans want refugee restrictions in spending bill


Nearly one-third of the Republicans in the House of Representatives signed a letter calling on party leaders to ensure that a must-pass spending bill block any use of federal funding to resettle refugees from Syria and nearby countries.