GAO: ObamaCare launch in doubt

President Obama's signature healthcare law might not be ready for prime time when people begin signing up for the new insurance exchanges on Oct. 1, according to a new government report.

Investigators with the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) found good and bad news as the Obama administration seeks to launch the marketplaces, which will make or break the law's effort to provide coverage to the uninsured.


Federal health officials are taking the lead in 34 states that have refused to mount their own exchanges because of opposition to ObamaCare. This outcome was not anticipated by authors of the Affordable Care Act and could throw a wrench in the law's rollout, the nonpartisan investigators said.

"Whether [the administration’s] contingency planning will assure the timely and smooth implementation of the exchanges by October 2013 cannot yet be determined,” the report said.

The study is the GAO's first in-depth look at whether the administration will hit crucial implementation deadlines in the next six months. It was first reported by The Associated Press and will be officially released on Wednesday.

The GAO cited many factors that raise questions about the law's readiness. The federal data hub that will power the exchanges has not been extensively tested, and the administration will need $1.5 billion in additional funds from Congress to operate the exchanges next year. 

About 7 million people are projected to enroll in the insurance exchanges next year.

In a hopeful sign for the White House, the report noted that 15 of the 34 states where federal health officials are running the exchanges will play some role in their operation.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department said the rollout of the law remains "on track."

“We are working every day to establish individual and small business Marketplaces where many Americans will have access to quality, affordable coverage for the first time," said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters. "We have already met key milestones and are on track to open the Marketplace on time."

The GAO also gave a long-awaited accounting of how much money the administration has spent setting up the exchanges — $400 million total as of March.

The largest sum of money went to CGI Federal, a government contractor based in Virginia that is setting up a computer system to run the marketplaces. The company behind the forthcoming data hub, Quality Software Services of Maryland, was paid $55 million.

Congressional Republicans jumped on the report as evidence that ObamaCare will fail.

“This law has been unpopular and unwieldy every step of the way," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a statement. 

"We are seeing a roll out marred by missed deadlines and incomplete programs, but the real harm to patients, doctors, and taxpayers will result from a fully operational ObamaCare."

Issa and several other GOP leaders had requested the report. The GAO also put out a similar assessment of the health law's small-business exchanges. 

HHS has repeatedly said that implementation is on track and will not be delayed.