GOP hits HHS official over ObamaCare high-risk pools

Some conservative groups oppose the GOP's bill because it redirects a cut from the health law back into another ObamaCare program, rather than defunding the law entirely. 

The conservative Club for Growth and Heritage Action have also criticized the bill for putting more money into the federal high-risk pools — a provision that burned through its budget faster than expected.

Republicans on Wednesday presented their proposal as another attack on ObamaCare, casting the high-risk pools as a failure. They also criticized the ways the administration has used the law's prevention and public health fund, which the GOP would cut to pay for the high-risk pools.

The Health and Human Services Department has stopped accepting new enrollees into the high-risk pools to ensure they will have enough money to cover the medical bills of people who are already enrolled.

“We stopped taking enrollees to make sure we wouldn’t run out of money," said Gary Cohen, the director of the office leading most of the healthcare implementation effort.

Cohen testified Wednesday before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight.

Committee Republicans also hammered the administration's use of a fund for prevention and public health programs, which they have routinely decried as a "slush fund."

Grants awarded from the prevention fund have been used to promote local programs such as pet neutering and bike lanes, Republicans charged.

The Health and Human Services Department has also tapped the prevention fund to help implement the federally run insurance exchange — which Republicans see as proof that the money is a "slush fund" not reserved for prevention.

"We are concerned that it is being raided as an ever-ready piggy bank to throw money at and hide the many problems inherent with implementing ObamaCare," subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said in a statement.

Cohen defended the use of the prevention fund to set up exchanges. People who have insurance coverage are more likely to use preventive services, he said, so using the money to set up exchanges ultimately boosts prevention.