GOP: Administration ignoring ObamaCare subpoenas

GOP: Administration ignoring ObamaCare subpoenas
© Greg Nash

House Republicans say that the Obama administration is ignoring subpoenas for documents related to ObamaCare spending they call illegal.


Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Trump war with GOP seeps into midterms MORE (R-Texas) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tuesday calling on it to comply.

The committees issued the subpoenas on March 29, but Republicans say they have received only one heavily redacted page of one document from HHS in response. 

“Your refusal to provide the requested documents and information raises serious concerns about the Department’s willingness to be accountable for the lawful execution of laws passed by Congress,” Upton and Brady write to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. 

At issue is an ObamaCare initiative known as the Basic Health Program. It is an optional health insurance program for states aimed at providing choices for low-income people with slightly too much income to qualify for Medicaid. The federal government provides funding to help states make other insurance options more affordable.

Republicans, however, say the Obama administration is paying out these funds for the program even though Congress has not appropriated the money. The administration argues that it already has a permanent appropriation under the Affordable Care Act section covering the law’s tax credits, but Republicans say that permanent appropriation was only for the tax credits, not for the Basic Health Program. 

The chairmen first wrote to HHS inquiring about the payments in June 2015. An assistant HHS secretary, Ellen Murray, provided a briefing to the committee staffs in July, and the panels say they followed up asking for documents that Murray referenced.

In November, the committees say, HHS produced 24 pages of documents, but redacted portions of them, and did not provide many other requested documents. 

In March, the committees say, HHS informed them it would not provide any additional documents. Later that month, the committee issued a subpoena, but the chairmen say they have only received one heavily redacted page since then.

“The pattern of conduct to this point suggests that the Department intends to frustrate our legitimate efforts to conduct oversight of the Basic Health Program,” Upton and Brady write. 

Matt Inzeo, an HHS spokesman, said the department is reviewing the letter from Upton and Brady.

"The Department is committed to providing substantive answers to Congress’s questions regarding our implementation of the Basic Health Program, as evidenced by the fact that the Department sent a senior administration official to brief the Committees and provided substantive documents and written responses to Congress on this matter," he said. 

House Republicans have been increasingly focused on a range of ObamaCare payments they say are illegal.

The chairmen have also issued subpoenas for documents on a different set of ObamaCare payments, the cost-sharing reductions aimed at reducing enrollees’ out of pocket costs. 

Republicans have also sued the administration over that program, and a federal judge ruled in their favor earlier this month, though that decision will be appealed. 

Congressional Democrats have portrayed the subpoenas as just another Republican attempt to weaken ObamaCare.  

- This story was updated at 4:19 p.m.