By Elise Viebeck - 06/17/13 07:28 PM EDT
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed documents from a controversial ObamaCare program on Friday after charging that the Obama administration had denied his request several times.
Issa is seeking information on a federal attempt to boost nonprofit health plans, known as CO-OPs (consumer oriented and operated plans), which compete with traditional health insurance.
The Affordable Care Act created a $3.4 billion federal loan program for CO-OPs that Republicans say might never be repaid because of some applicants' financial troubles.
Issa and his GOP colleagues have also asked Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to provide documents explaining how CO-OP applicants were reviewed and accepted into the program.
The Republican lawmakers expressed special interest in how HHS assessed the groups' financial future and ability to repay their federal loans.
"We remain concerned that taxpayers will lose a significant amount of money awarded through the CO-OP program," Issa and several colleagues wrote to Sebelius in late March.
"The CO-OP program has the highest expected loss percentage of all non-education direct loans made in excess of $10 million in fiscal year 2012," the letter claimed, citing the 2013 federal budget.
That month, Issa warned that he was considering the "use of compulsory process" to obtain documents about the CO-OPs because the health department had complied with none of his requests. The letter set a deadline of April, 8, 2013.
"It is critical that you provide us the information we requested about a program that is projected to lose such a significant amount of taxpayer money," Issa wrote.
Just under $2 billion of the CO-OP program has been obligated to 24 participants. The rest of the program's funding was cut in the deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
Issa has also sought documents from 13 of the program's 24 participants. They are: Freelancers Union CO-OPs of New York, New Jersey and Oregon; Hospitality Health; CoOportunity Health; Louisiana Health Cooperative; Kentucky Health Cooperative; Maine Community Health Options; Land of Lincoln Health; Evergreen Health Cooperative; Montana Health Cooperative; HealthyCT; and Vermont Health CO-OP.
Advocates with the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs (NASHCO) charge that the plans are a vital check on major U.S. health insurers.
"Since long before the fiscal cliff agreement, the big health insurance companies have fought the new CO-OPs because they represent a real opportunity to lower health insurance premiums and allow consumers to belong to a member-governed heath insurer," NASHCO President John Morrison said in a statement following the fiscal deal.
"The cut to the CO-OP program was not about federal spending ... it was about the health insurance giants attempting to eliminate competition at the expense of millions of Americans who will pay higher premiums due to a lack of competition."