cloudy
Friday May 27th, 2016 12:17PM

US agency to probe health exchanges

By The Associated Press
WSHINGTON - The investigative arm of Congress on Wednesday agreed to look into problems with state health exchange websites around the country.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office accepted an initial request from a group of House Republicans seeking an audit on how $304 million in federal grants were spent on the Cover Oregon website, which has yet to enroll a single person online without special assistance.

The agency said due to similar requests from several members of Congress and congressional committees related to the rollout of online health care exchanges, it would broaden the investigation and issue several separate reports on its findings.

GAO spokesman Charles Young said just which states will be included with Oregon will be determined as the investigation goes forward. But 14 states and the District of Columbia opted to create their own exchanges and accepted federal funding to do so.

Republicans have been stepping up their attacks on troubled health exchanges during this election year, but Rep. Greg. Walden, R-Ore., said it was a non-partisan issue.

He noted Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley made their own requests for the GAO to investigate a day after the Republicans - Walden, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, and Reps. Joe Pitts and Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania - filed theirs last month.

"The politics will play out where they may, good or bad," Walden said. "That doesn't mean you don't ask questions. We need to get answers."

Merkley said in a statement that he looked forward to the GAO's recommendations "about how to fix the system and avoid this happening in the future."

Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said, "We will participate fully with the GAO as they conduct their work."

Walden added that the probe of state websites would "piggyback nicely" on another GAO look at the federal health exchange website, which has already begun.

Separately, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked for an inspector general's investigation into problems with the rollout of the health care law.

Some of the state exchanges have outperformed the federal exchange website, but others have trailed behind and faced significant challenges, including expensive fixes to glitches and lower projected enrollments.

In addition to Oregon, where residents on their own still can't sign up for coverage in one sitting, the exchanges in Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota have faced major problems.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the investigation a political stunt.

"With House Republicans voting today for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it is disappointing but not surprising that Republicans are now using federal government resources to investigate state health exchanges instead of finding a productive way to help Americans access health care," Schatz said in an emailed comment.

States with successful exchanges include Connecticut, Rhode Island, Kentucky and New York. Connecticut, which has far exceeded its enrollment goals for the open enrollment period, is setting up a consulting business and marketing an "exchange in a box" to other states.

Cover Oregon's online enrollment system was supposed to launch in October, allowing individuals and small businesses to compare insurance plans and qualify for federal tax credits to subsidize the premiums. It wasn't ready, however, forcing people to fill out a lengthy paper application that would have to be processed by hand. Pieces of the website are now working and some portions of the processing are automated, but significant problems still exist.

Republicans have contended problems were known for months before the launch. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has acknowledged mistakes were made but denies having prior knowledge of problems that kept the website from launching on time.

Other questions raised by the Republican request, crafted in consultation with the GAO, include:

- What capability does the federal government have to reclaim those funds if Oregon abandons the state-run exchange and joins the federal one?

- What other costs has Oregon incurred because of the website's failure?

- Did Cover Oregon's status as a state organization play a role in its failure?

- What steps could federal agencies have taken to assure state and federal oversight of projects like this in the future.

The Wyden-Merkley request asks more questions:

- How were the federal funds used, including job creation, public and private contractors, software developers, and consumer education?

- What efforts to enroll people outside the website have been successful, and what can be done to expand enrollment ahead of the March 31 deadline?

- If taxpayer funds were mismanaged, can the federal government reclaim grant funds from contractors?

- Was there anything in the Affordable Care Act that Cover Oregon did not respond to in its creation?

- What can Oregon do to most quickly and efficiently overcome Cover Oregon's problems and enroll more people?
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 1 year ago )
Conviction of Putin foe sets off protest in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin's chief political foe was convicted along with his brother on Tuesday in a fraud case widely seen as a vendetta by the Kremlin, triggering one of Russia's boldest anti-government demonstrations in years.
6:03PM ( 1 year ago )
More Georgians signing up for health insurance
A federal report says more Georgians have selected health insurance plans through a federally facilitated marketplace.
4:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
Amid shouts of 'shame,' House GOP defeats gay rights measure
Democrats shouted "shame," but House Republicans switched their votes and defeated a measure to protect gay rights
8:03PM ( 1 week ago )
CDC director Freiden warns GOP Zika bill is inadequate
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that a House GOP measure to combat the Zika virus is inadequate to deal with the swelling threat to public health
7:36PM ( 1 week ago )
Trump unveils list of his top picks for Supreme Court
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, released Wednesday a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he's elected to the White House.
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
1st US penis transplant could bring hope to maimed soldiers
A 64-year-old cancer patient has received the nation's first penis transplant, a groundbreaking operation that may also help U.S. veterans maimed by roadside bombs
8:04PM ( 1 week ago )
States dig in against directive on transgender bathroom use
Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere are vowing defiance over the Obama administration's new directive on transgender bathroom use
9:19PM ( 1 week ago )