Healthcare

GOP senator: HHS answers on ObamaCare co-ops not enough

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Thursday that he is not satisfied with a new letter from the Obama administration about ObamaCare co-ops, and is continuing to block the confirmation of health-related nominees.

The Nebraska senator has vowed to block confirmation of all nominees to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) until he gets the answers he wants about the failure of ObamaCare’s co-op health plans. 

Twelve of the 23 co-ops — nonprofit health insurers set up under ObamaCare and meant to compete with established companies — have failed because of financial problems.

Sasse has written a series of letters dating back to May asking HHS to provide him with documents and answers about a range of questions related to the taxpayer-funded loans given to the co-ops and the administration’s oversight of their finances. 

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell responded in June, but had not responded to subsequent letters in the following months. 

Then, on Wednesday, HHS sent new information to Sasse. 

However, Sasse responded on Thursday saying his questions have not been answered. 

{mosads}“HHS sending a letter is not the same as providing real answers,” Sasse said in a statement. “These questions are not going away and we will ask them for another six months if that is what it takes.”

Sasse says that he wants copies of the performance reviews that led to government loans being awarded to co-ops that eventually went out of business.  

“HHS has not yet answered the most important question: why did it give $1.2 billion to 12 failed CO-OPs?” Sasse said. “We know that HHS relied upon so-called ‘milestone’ or ‘performance’ reviews to give out loans, but that information has not seen the light of day. Until HHS produces a full accounting, which must include these milestone reviews, they remain non-responsive to the core of our request.”

Sasse also wrote a letter to Burwell on Thursday reiterating the requests outlined in his statement and referring back to questions in his previous letters. 

Sasse’s hold on nominees, in particular, is throwing a roadblock in front of the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

The information that HHS provided to Sasse on Wednesday did include the quarterly financial filings for the 12 co-ops that have failed, something that the senator had previously requested. 

HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislation Jim Esquea provided additional information to Sasse in a four-page letter Wednesday, which Sasse released along with his letter in response. Esquea provided details about the lead-up to the failure of CoOportunity, the co-op for Iowa and Nebraska, on which Sasse has placed a particular focus. 

Esquea said CoOportunity requested $55 million in additional government loans in September 2014. However, the letter says that at the time of this application, the co-op was able to provide several months of additional claims and financial data. 

The letter says it became clear to HHS that the co-op’s financial projections had “rapidly deteriorated.” HHS said that was because of higher enrollment and more use of healthcare by the enrollees than expected. The loan request was therefore denied. 

More broadly, HHS said people who lost their coverage because of co-op failure would be able to find new coverage because of the Affordable Care Act. 

Congress also cut the funding for the co-op program from $6 billion down to around $2.4 billion. 

“The climate for CO-OPs has been challenging, and funding has been uncertain, as Congress repeatedly voted to reduce and restrict funds for CO-OPs,” Esquea wrote. 

– Updated at 8:18 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Sylvia Mathews Burwell

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