Dems defend HealthCare.gov after GAO report

Dems defend HealthCare.gov after GAO report
© Getty Images

Democrats defended HealthCare.gov, the federal ObamaCare marketplace, on Thursday after Republicans seized on a watchdog report that found fictitious applicants went undetected and received coverage. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Wednesday found that 11 of 12 fictitious ObamaCare applicants created by the office were able to successfully enroll in coverage and were even automatically re-enrolled for 2015. 

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the report Thursday, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump poised to kick off election-year fight over Medicaid Overnight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Mnuchin warns UK, Italy of tariffs if digital tax plans are implemented MORE (Ore.), the committee’s top Democrat, pushed back on the report’s findings.

“This study looks at a dozen fictitious cases — and not one of them was a real person who filed taxes or got medical services,” he said. “No fast-buck fraudster got a government check sent to their bank account.”

Wyden argued that it is much harder for real people to get past the system fraudulently. When people show up at a doctor’s office, they are asked for a photo ID, insurance card and medical history. 

He also noted that the fictitious applicants did not file tax returns, part of the process for getting the health law’s tax credits, which the administration says is a fundamental step in the anti-fraud system.

But Republicans sounded the alarm. 

“With these findings from GAO, it seems obvious, at least to me, that the administration has been preoccupied with signing up as many applicants as possible, ignoring potential fraud and integrity issues along the way,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah), the committee’s chairman. 

Seto Bagdoyan, a GAO official, testified that the administration seems to be favoring ease of sign-ups over fighting fraud. 

“The balance would probably favor access over program integrity, as we stand today,” he said. 

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Hillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech MORE (R-N.C.) also pointed out that there could be problems with tax returns as an anti-fraud defense because of errors in the process. 

The GAO found that three of the 11 applicants received an incorrect total on a tax form for the amount of tax credits they had received under the health law. 

Wyden, while defending HealthCare.gov, did not completely dismiss the GAO report, saying instead that Congress should wait for the agency to make recommendations, which it has not yet done. 

“I’m willing to look at all the ramifications of all the 11 applicants,” he said. “Let’s do it in a bipartisan way, and let’s do it when we actually have some recommendations.”

The administration has also said it will work with watchdog agency to make improvements. But it also points out it has a verification system in place. The GAO investigators were stopped by the online application system, but were able to obtain coverage by calling and attesting that their information was correct. 

Hatch also acknowledged that with the White House’s victory in the Supreme Court last month, ObamaCare will be in place until at least the election of a new president.

“Until then, ObamaCare will remain in place,” Hatch said. “In the meantime, Congress has an obligation to exercise rigorous oversight of the implementation of the law and to work to protect both beneficiaries and taxpayers from its negative consequences.”