ObamaCare subsidy errors even worse than expected
Back when the rickety ObamaCare computer system was coughing and wheezing to life, critics warned that its incomplete systems would produce a large volume of data errors… and some of those errors were tied to enormous taxpayer subsidies. A couple of weeks ago, news began bubbling out that the subsidy errors were even worse than the skeptics feared, which led me to anticipate “it’s going to be a mite uncomfortable for those who suddenly discover they weren’t eligible for some portion of their ObamaCare subsidies after all.”
Further investigation revealed that it would also be pretty darn uncomfortable for the American taxpayer, who would be left on the hook for a great deal of the improperly-paid subsidy money. Not only would it be difficult to recoup the money from people who can’t afford to repay it (and from people who never should have been able to get into the system at all, such as those who lack valid U.S. citizenship) but there are actually laws that cap the amount of improperly-distributed subsidy money we can get back from low-income erroneous recipients.
At the end of May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) urged the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services to look into these reports of improper subsidy payments. Among other things, the senators noted that the “back end” systems of HealthCare.gov were famously incomplete at the time of launch, and are somewhat uncertain in their operation to this day. Promises were made by the Administration that eligibility would be carefully checked before subsidies were paid, but there was good reason to doubt those assurances.
The Inspector General issued a report today, and Senator Coburn didn’t find it encouraging. “The reports released today highlight that the federal government lacks necessary safeguards to prevent taxpayers from providing improper subsidies to illegal immigrants, individuals who are incarcerated, or individuals whose income is too high to qualify for a subsidy,” Coburn said in a statement. “The Obama Administration has failed to keep its promise that effective controls were in place to prevent waste and fraud in Obamacare payments. These reports show a trend of broken promises in Obamacare’s botched implementation.
In fact, the report summary cites inconsistent data about income and citizenship as the two most common errors to emerge from both the federal and state marketplaces. Citizenship? Really? Obama’s billion-dollar computer system makes copious errors just when trying to determine that applicants are valid U.S. citizens? Remember when President Obama swore that benefits would never go to illegal aliens, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You lie!”… and people got mad at Wilson?
On the bright side, the IG concluded that some controls were relatively effective, such as “verification of applicants’ incarceration status.” Well, that’s a relief. At least TrainWreck.gov can tell if you’re in jail. Usually.
Disturbingly, the Inspector General found that the federal system “was generally incapable of resolving most inconsistencies,” and without that capability, “the marketplace cannot ensure that an applicant meets each of the eligibility requirements for enrollment in a qualified health plan, and when applicable, eligibility for insurance affordability programs.” Senator Coburn’s office notes that 89 percent of inconsistencies were unresolved, which leaves 2.6 million out of 2.9 million questions unresolved. As for the state exchanges, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont reported they were generally incapable of resolving these problems, California said it could handle some of them, and the HHS inspector found inconsistencies in Connecticut even though its exchange administrations claimed they had been resolved. The Administration’s early promises are dead and buried, but there’s still a hell of a mess to clean up.
Hopes are expressed that some other data inconsistencies could be captured by other systems, which is not the kind of safety-net save we were promised when President Obama extolled the virtues of his amazing high-tech Wonder of the World.
Some of the problems cited in the report sound more like massive structural incompatibilities than computer glitches… which makes it highly aggravating that then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would confidently promise a level of accuracy the system could not possibly have delivered. Unsurprisingly, the worst problems seem to have cropped up in the first few months after ObamaCare’s launch, but there’s still work to be done. Federal officials concurred with all of the Inspector General’s recommendations, but California and Connecticut officials disputed some of their findings.