Congress’s investigative arm said Wednesday it will audit Oregon’s broken healthcare exchange site, which has yet to enroll even one person despite spending $304 million in federal funds.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a letter to Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ore.) it would look into how the funds were spent, and whether that money could be recovered from third-party contractors, among other things.
The GAO letter was in response to a request sent last month by Merkley and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Democrats push tax credits to bolster clean energy Five reasons for concern about Democrats' drug price control plan MORE (D-Ore.), both of whom are ObamaCare supporters. The senators noted their frustration with their home-state’s exchange in their request for a GAO investigation.
Four Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.), sent a similar request to the agency last month.
“It is great news that the GAO has responded to our request to carefully examine what has gone wrong with the Cover Oregon website,” Merkley told The Hill in a statement. “I look forward to reading their recommendations about how to fix the system and avoid this happening in the future.”
Despite the website problems, Oregon is more than halfway to its Congressional Budget Office estimate of having 64,000 enrollees by the end of March, according to an Avalere Health analysis released last month. The state has relied solely on paper applications.
Oregon is running its own investigation into the botched launch. Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office didn’t return request for comment on Thursday, but told The Hill last month that it’s only the consumer portal that isn’t functioning properly, and that the state is “using large parts of the technology we purchased to calculate what people are eligible for, help them get access to financial assistance, and service their accounts.”
The GAO probe will be the first federal investigation into the handful of state-run ObamaCare sites, but it likely won’t be the last.
The agency said it will “undertake this work as part of a broader study planned to examine states’ health exchange websites.” The GAO declined to comment on what other states might be included in an investigation.
“As you are aware, GAO has received several requests from congressional committees and Members to examine a range of issues related to the healthcare.gov rollout,” the letter to Merkley said. “In these unique circumstances GAO will conduct one body of work but issue multiple products. GAO will also keep other committees of jurisdiction and members informed about the body of work.”
Lawmakers have set their sites on the exchange in Maryland, where state officials have been debating for months whether to abandon its faltering state-run exchange in favor of HealthCare.gov.
Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson last month asking for an investigation into Maryland’s exchange.
“By the end of the year, over $100 million federal dollars will have been spent on a project that should have cost much less, and doesn’t work,” they wrote. “As a result of the fact that Maryland appears willing to continue to waste tens of millions of more federal dollars, we ask that the investigation start immediately.”
Other states are likely to come under lawmaker scrutiny.
In Massachusetts, the state’s healthcare exchange worked fine until it had to comply with the new healthcare law. Since October, the site has suffered frequent crashes and load problems.
Hawaii and Minnesota are two other problem sites.
The scrutiny of the state enrollment portals is a shift from October, when the federal site, HealthCare.gov, was out of service but state-run exchanges in California, New York, Connecticut, and even red Kentucky appeared to be humming along.
In Connecticut, state officials are seeking to capitalize on their success, offering fee-based healthcare consulting services to the states that have stumbled.