As the October 1 implementation of parts of Obamacare nears, House Republicans continue to pass legislation aimed at highlighting the health care law's flaws and weaknesses. On Thursday, the House passed a bill to reform an Obamacare verification process that would better stop fraudulent claims to health insurance subsidies. Politico reports:
The bill, which passed 235-191, would mandate a verification program to make sure Americans don’t collect more insurance subsidies than they’re qualified for. HHS is already putting such a program in place, but Republicans insisted their measure is necessary in light of extra leeway the Obama administration granted states over the summer.
In contrast with previous Obamacare votes — which mostly aimed to repeal, delay or defund the Affordable Care Act—this bill would instead shift around responsibilities within the law. But Republicans’ intent is the same: to paint Obamacare as a disastrous law, the implementation of which is being hopelessly bungled by the Obama administration.
“You can’t go into a store, restaurant or gasoline station and pay on the honor system,” Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady said. “But the Obama administration has botched the law … taxpayer dollars will go out the door as individuals pinky-swear their income is accurate.”
Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn defended her support of the bill on the House floor. "When it comes to Obamacare, yes, delay, defund, repeal, replace," said Blackburn. "The reason we are bringing this legislation forward is because there is a gaping hole. We know that having self-attestation for getting these taxpayer subsidies in these exchanges is going to lead to an incredible amount of fraud. We are even having estimates of as much as $250 billion worth of fraud that could be going into this program."
Meanwhile, the White House is arguing that the so-called Obamacare data hub, the system of information users will enter when applying for health insurance subsidies, is "ready for operation." But as former Social Security Administration commissioner Michael Astrue testified to the House Homeland Security committee Wednesday, there are significant concerns with regard to security and privacy that the Department of Health and Human Services has not answered.
After enactment of the ACA, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Donald Berwick, had the responsibility of creating systems for the exchanges, which required peripheral support from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Congress did not appropriate special funding for this initiative, and Berwick was unwilling to shift adequate funds within CMS for this critical project. Berwick then failed to persuade HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius to spend one penny on this effort from her massive ACA discretionary fund. Berwick also failed to bully SSA into paying for the entire system; he brushed aside the blatant illegality of that approach.
Civil servants at CMS did what they could to meet the statutory deadline—they threw together an overly simplistic system without adequate privacy safeguards. The system’s lack of any substantial verification of the user would leave members of the public open to identity theft, lost periods of health insurance coverage, and exposure of address for victims of domestic abuse and others. CMS then tried to deflect attention from its shortcomings by falsely asserting that it had done so to satisfy White House directives about making electronic services user-friendly.
In reality, the beta version jammed through a few months ago will, unless delayed and fixed, inflict on the public the most widespread violation of the Privacy Act in our history. Almost a year ago both I and the IRS commissioner raised strong legal objections to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has statutory oversight responsibilities for the Privacy Act. As of the time of my resignation as commissioner of Social Security last February, OMB lawyers could not bring themselves to bless a portal in which I could change Donald Trump’s health insurance and he could change mine.
Incredibly, at the time of our appeal, no senior legal official at HHS had reviewed the legal issues raised by this feature of the ACA. It is my understanding that OMB, despite the recent furor over this administration’s lack of respect for the privacy of citizens, has ordered agencies to bulldoze through the Privacy Act by invoking an absurdly broad interpretation of the Privacy Act’s “routine use” exemption.