Congress Questions Obamacare’s Readiness

Administration tries to assure representatives that law will be ready to implement

Marilyn Tavenner / AP
August 1, 2013

Members of Congress quizzed an administration official about the implementation of Obamacare at a hearing on Thursday morning, raising questions about the risks of fraud and rising health insurance prices.

"It is the uncertainty of the law that most concerns me," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressing concerns about rising costs to individuals and businesses.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Marilyn Tavenner, who is in charge of the implementation of the marketplaces, tried to assuage the concerns of the congressmen and argued that the law is helping people receive affordable health insurance.

"We’re motivated and well prepared for the hard work ahead," she said, assuring the committee that the law will be ready for implementation on Oct. 1.

Multiple congressmen raised concerns about rising rates across the country. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.) noted that insurance rates in Georgia are spiking under Obamacare, in some cases by up to 198 percent.

"This is not what we’re seeing across the country," Tavenner told the committee, pointing to New York as an example of a state where the exchanges have brought down prices.

Tavenner conceded that the only data they have is from states that have set up their own exchanges. Thirty-four states have ceded the responsibility to set up an exchange to the federal government, and premium rate information from their exchanges will come available in September.

Congressmen also raised concerns about the potential for fraud on the exchanges.

The administration waived the requirement that the exchanges verify the income eligibility of those applying for income-based subsidies. Instead, when external verifying information is not available, the exchanges would accept a "self-attestation" from those seeking a subsidy, making some observers worry that this decision puts the exchanges at risk of fraud.

Tavenner promised the committee members that the administration would check all subsidy applications against IRS and Equifax (a private consumer reporting agency) data. If any application cannot be verified, then the administration would go investigate it.

Tavenner’s assertion contradicts the regulation that the administration released on July 5 announcing the verification waiver. The administration said only that it would investigate a representative sample of self-attested applications to determine the rate of fraud.