Senate chairmen probe failed ObamaCare insurer startups

Two Senate committees are deepening their investigations into a controversial ObamaCare program that has given $2.3 billion to startup insurers, half of which have since failed.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate panel to hold hearing next week for Trump IRS nominee On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests Supreme Court rules states can require online sellers to collect sales tax 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (R-Tenn.) wrote to the head of the agency overseeing ObamaCare on Monday, demanding to know how federal officials are dealing with the string of co-op failures — and how they will recoup the money.

“The CO-OPs are not living up to their expectations,” the senators wrote in a letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicare (CMS) Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.

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Eleven of the 23 co-ops have shuttered, including those in the senators' home states of Tennessee and Utah. A half dozen have failed in the last two weeks leading up to the open enrollment period that began Nov. 1.

The senators also raise new concerns of “creative accounting” tactics that they said make the co-ops “appear more profitable than they actually are and [wonder] if false positives will then result in even more failures.”

They cited a July 2015 memo in which federal health officials offer state co-op directors the chance to apply surplus notes to the program’s startup loans. The letter reiterated that the loans would be subject to repayment.

More collapses are likely in the future, according to a dismal inspector’s general report this summer that found that all but one co-op was in financial distress.

The Obama administration has stayed mum about options for the co-op programs, which have faced problems after the release of this year’s less-than-expected ObamaCare risk corridor payments to insurers.

In her first remarks on the co-op collapses, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell did not offer details about her involvement with the mostly state-run programs.

“Right now, that is what we are doing, is exploring our options,” she said when pressed by several reporters about the federal government's options. “We are continuing to examine what, if any, options we have.”

But she also did not voice concerns about the program's fate, even amid a growing chorus of Republican criticism.

Two GOP-led committees, the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means panels, have scheduled hearings on the co-op programs this week.

- This post was updated on Nov. 2 at 5:44 p.m.