The Obama administration has spent at least $3.7 billion to build and promote online marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act, but it can’t prove exactly where it all went, according to an audit released Monday.
Federal investigators said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) does not properly track certain data that public officials need in order to determine whether the healthcare law is working.
The government tracks its healthcare spending in an outdated records system that cannot easily respond to data requests such as salaries or public relations contracts in certain departments. Instead, officials rely on manually prepared spreadsheets that can take months to produce.
Out of that data, “we were not able to determine the reliability of most of the information,” according to the report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“CMS's processes are inconsistent with certain federal accounting and internal control standards,” the report states. To improve the system, the GAO recommends that CMS staff create new procedures to provide more timely and reliable information to the public. “Particularly for programs subject to a significant degree of public and congressional scrutiny,” the GAO reports.
The report marks the third time in two weeks that a federal audit has criticized the rollout of ObamaCare.
The auditors pointed to one particularly troublesome area within CMS — its Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, which works largely with state governments.
That agency could not verify its total costs of staff salaries, travel, polling or total advertising spent on ObamaCare.
The investigation was requested by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the outgoing chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Camp released a statement criticizing the administration's financial tracking.
“After promising transparency and then ignoring repeated requests from Congress, we now find out that the administration is not even keeping track of how many taxpayer dollars are going out the door,” he said. “Worse yet, the administration won’t even account for how much it spent on public relations campaigns promoting their unpopular law.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the other agencies, defended its financial tracking system, which it described as “up-to-date.”
The department argued it relies on an ad-hoc process only when responding to non-routine data requests, such as those from the GAO or Congress.
HHS has endured heavy scrutiny from lawmakers, particularly over the last year. Members of Congress and their staff have sent hundreds of inquiries to HHS since the launch of ObamaCare. As a result, department officials have testified at more than 50 hearings and supplied 140,000 pages of documents.