House Republicans accused the Obama administration Tuesday of stonewalling their investigation into whether the government is funding an obscure Obamacare program without asking Congress for the money first.
Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers were emboldened by federal court ruling that said the administration is unlawfully paying insurers who are required to reduce costs for poorer customers on Obamacare’s exchanges.
But they also want to know if the administration is going around the Affordable Care Act’s text to fund the Basic Health Program, a second, lesser-known part of the 2010 health care law that allows states to set up a coverage program for low-income people who are ineligible for Medicaid and would otherwise enter Obamacare’s subsidized health care exchanges.
So far, only Minnesota and New York have implemented the program.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, said they have been asking for nearly a year about how the program is funded. They said a high-ranking official who briefed them did not bring any of the documents with her and that documents they later received had multiple redactions.
They subpoenaed a narrower set of records in March.
“These subpoenas created a legal obligation on the department to produce all responsive materials,” the chairmen wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. “Since the subpoenas have been issued, however, your department has produced only one heavily redacted page of one document.”
On May 23, the chairman also asked HHS to hand over documents that justify the administration’s decision to permanently fund Obamacare’s cost-sharing program, which reimburses insurers who reduce co-pays and deductibles for qualified Obamacare enrollees as a condition of participating in the law’s insurance exchanges.
Republican lawmakers say the administration needs annual permission from Congress and even zeroed out funding for the payments.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, presiding in Washington, said this month that the reimbursements must stop until Congress explicitly permits them, though she stayed that order pending an appeal.
The chairmen said that ruling strengthens their hand in pursuing the cost-sharing documents and that HHS hadn’t asserted any legal privilege for withholding documents related to the Basic Health Program.
“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,” the chairmen wrote.
HHS spokesman Matthew Inzeo said the agency is reviewing the letter, and that the Basic Health Program is a vital tool for low-income Americans.
“The department is committed to providing substantive answers to Congress‘ 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.
More broadly, the administration and its allies say the lawsuit and congressional probes are part of a long line of attempts to weaken and ultimately repeal the president’s signature health care law.
(via: Washington Times)