Republicans demand documents from insurers on ObamaCare 'bailout'

Republicans demand documents from insurers on ObamaCare 'bailout'
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House Republicans are calling for a range of documents from healthcare insurers, including any emails with the White House, as they investigate whether the administration could be trying to get money to firms as a way of shoring up ObamaCare.

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday sent letters to several insurance companies that have sued the administration over a shortfall in funds for an ObamaCare program called “risk corridors” that is meant to protect insurers against heavy losses in the early years of the health law. [READ ONE OF THE LETTERS BELOW.]

The funding shortfall has left a hole in many insurers' finances at a time when many are dropping out of the ObamaCare marketplaces due to losses. Republicans fear that the administration could settle the lawsuits with the insurers as a way to get money to them and help make up the shortfall, which the GOP says would constitute a “bailout” of insurers.

Republicans say that would circumvent the will of Congress, which has twice passed provisions preventing additional funds from being shifted into the risk corridor program. Using a separate pot of money, called the “judgment fund,” could be a way for the administration to get around Congress’s restrictions.

“The Committee is concerned that, in connection with [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] solicitation of settlement offers, the Administration may be considering using the permanent appropriation for judgments (“Judgment Fund”) to pay any settlement agreements, even though Congress has acted — twice — to expressly prohibit the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on this program,” wrote Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).

The lawmakers want insurers to brief committee staff within the next week and provide copies of communications with the executive branch about potential settlements by Oct. 17.

Separately, 46 House Republicans, led by Rep. Robert Pittenger (N.C.), wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell last month warning that Congress could take action to block any settlements.

“Should the administration seek to make settlements in any pending lawsuits regarding risk corridors payments, we remain committed to exhausting all legislative and judicial options to ensure the power of the purse vested in Congress under the Constitution is respected and maintained,” the lawmakers wrote.

Alarm bells on the issue sounded for Republicans last month when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted a notice seeming to invite settlement talks with insurers, noting, “We are willing to begin such discussions at any time.”

Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt also indicated at a hearing last month that discussions of settlements were underway. 

On the other hand, the Department of Justice last Friday made a forceful argument in court that the insurers are not owed additional money, raising the hopes of some Republicans that at least part of the Obama administration agrees with them that additional money should not go to insurers under the program. 

Read House GOP letter on Scribd