GOP subpoenas ObamaCare documents

GOP subpoenas ObamaCare documents

House Republicans are subpoenaing documents related to ObamaCare payments that they say break the law.

Two House committees issued the subpoenas on Wednesday, saying the administration has refused to comply with document requests for over a year. The administration counters that the matter is part of an ongoing lawsuit.

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“Now, 15 months after our first request, we still don’t have the most basic information about the $5 billion in unlawful payments to insurance companies,” Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyDemocrats, GOP spar over Treasury rules on Trump tax law Ex-HHS chief threatens to vote 'no' on surprise medical billing measure Bipartisan Ways and Means leaders unveil measure to stop surprise medical bills MORE (R-Texas), the chairmen of two committees, said in a statement. 

“Enough is enough," they added. "Complying with Congress is not optional, and the American public deserves the courtesy and respect of cooperation. Our pursuit of the facts and the truth continues.”

The top Democrats on the same two committees, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) and Sandy Levin (Mich.), fired back in a statement, saying that Republicans are dusting off "the same old playbook" of attacking the Affordable Care Act and trying to make "an end run around the judicial process," since the matter is already the subject of a lawsuit. 

“Instead of pursuing partisan witch hunts, Congress should be focusing on the pressing health issues before it — like helping the residents of Flint and providing resources to combat the Zika virus," Pallone and Levin said. "The American people deserve better.”

At issue are ObamaCare payments known as “cost-sharing reductions,” which help lower out-of-pocket costs like deductibles for low-income people enrolled in plans under the healthcare law. They are in addition to ObamaCare’s better known premium tax credits, which also help make insurance more affordable. 

Republicans argue the administration is illegally paying out the cost-sharing reductions despite the lack of an appropriation from Congress. The administration says it does not need a yearly appropriation because ObamaCare already permanently appropriated the funds under the same section that provides for the tax credits. 

House Republicans have sued the administration, in the case of House v. Burwell, over the same issue. A judge declined to dismiss that case on the basis of a lack of legal standing to sue, but a ruling on the substance of the case has not yet been issued.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have been asking for documents related to the cost-sharing reductions since February 2015. 

In December, the committees had threatened subpoenas if the administration did not comply. 

In January, Republicans subpoenaed the Treasury Department but held off on subpoenas to the Department of Health and Human Services because of a phone conversation between Upton and HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

In the phone call, Burwell pledged to make a senior official available for a briefing, the committees say. 

That briefing occurred on March 4, but HHS counsel did not allow Ellen Murray, an assistant secretary, to answer questions about the decision to fund the cost-sharing reductions, according to the Republicans. 

Furthermore, the committees say that HHS’s first production of documents, on March 3, included only publicly available documents. On March 21, they say they received one more document from HHS. 

The subpoena calls for producing “all documents and communications” related to the source of funding for the cost-sharing reductions. 

Another subpoena is for a memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget related to the payments. 

The subpoenas call for the documents to be produced by May 18.  

HHS said it was "disappointed" by the subpoenas.

"Despite the fact that the House of Representatives decided to sue the Administration on this issue, our Department has worked collaboratively with Congress to provide information regarding this program, including by responding to letters, providing documents, and making four senior officials available for interviews," said HHS spokesman Ben Wakana. "We are disappointed with the Committees' latest actions in light of our record of cooperation."

— This story was updated at 7:04 p.m.