Sen­a­tors want states to pay for health care site fail­ures

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans on Wed­nes­day told Pres­i­dent Obama’s pick to lead the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment that they ex­pect the govern­ment to re­coup mil­lions of dol­lars in federal grants from states that set up flawed web­sites un­der Oba­macare.

Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, put Sylvia Mathews Bur­well on no­tice dur­ing her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the pow­er­ful Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, say­ing roughly half of the states that opted to set up their own health care ex­changes failed to build suc­cess­ful web­sites and should pay back the money they re­ceived from Wash­ing­ton over the next 10 years.

“One of the great­est chal­lenges fac­ing HHS is shor­ing up the federal and state­based health in­sur­ance ex­changes,” Mr. Hatch said. “En­sur­ing that the ex­changes are op­er­at­ing ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively will be one of your big­gest chal­lenges.”

Mr. Hatch and Sen. John Bar­rasso, Wy­oming Repub­li­can, filed a bill Wed­nes­day re­quir­ing states that aban­don their faulty Oba­macare por­tals to make the federal govern­ment whole again.

Ms. Bur­well said she would take stock of the prob­lems in those states and draw back funds from the con­trac­tors or other en­ti­ties at fault.

“Where the federal govern­ment and the tax­payer had funds mis­used, we need to use the full ex­tent of the law to get those funds back for the tax­payer,” she said.

De­spite their dis­taste for Oba­macare, Repub­li­cans said they ad­mired Ms. Bur­well’s ten­ure as White House budget chief.

“She’s com­pe­tent,” Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, said at the start of glow­ing tes­ti­mony to the com­mit­tee.

Repub­li­cans sparred fre­quently with de­part­ing HHS Sec­re­tary Kathleen Se­be­lius, who an­nounced in April that she would step down af­ter the flawed roll­out of the federal ex­change sys­tem, Health­Care.gov. But that ac­ri­mony did not sur­face in the sen­a­tors’ ques­tions for Ms. Bur­well, quash­ing spec­u­la­tion that her nom­i­na­tion could morph into a proxy war over Oba­macare.

In­stead, Mr. Obama’s Repub­li­can ri­vals pressed Ms. Bur­well dur­ing her sec­ond con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on cuts to Medi­care Ad­van­tage — an in­surer-run al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tional health care pro­gram for se­niors — and nar­row as­pects of the over­haul to the na­tional health care sys­tem.

Mr. Hatch, the com­mit­tee’s top Repub­li­can, used much of his time to tout his leg­is­la­tion, the State Ex­change Ac­count­abil­ity Act.

He and Mr. Bar­rasso have sin­gled out seven states — Hawaii, Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, Min­nesota, Ne­vada, Ore­gon and Ver­mont — and the District of Columbia as fall­ing short in their ef­forts, de­spite re­ceiv­ing a to­tal of $1.4 bil­lion to es­tab­lish health care ex­changes.

Three dozen states re­lied on the federal govern­ment to run their health care ex­changes. The rest of the states ex­pe­ri­enced mixed lev­els of suc­cess in open en­roll­ment from Oct. 1 to March 31. Ken­tucky, Con­necti­cut, Cal­i­for­nia and other states were able to roll out their ex­changes rel­a­tively smoothly.

Some roll­outs were full-scale dis­as­ters, prompt­ing state of­fi­cials to cuts ties with their con­trac­tors or re­write their deals.

The bill’s spon­sors note that two of the worst-per­form­ing states, Ore­gon and Mas­sachusetts, may re­quest more federal fund­ing to drop their ex­changes and switch to the federal sys­tem.

Be­yond the ex­changes, Mr. Hatch asked Ms. Bur­well to be re­spon­sive to law­mak­ers who are mon­i­tor­ing Oba­macare, the fis­cal health of Medi­care and other as­pects of the mas­sive HHS budget.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sylvia Mathews Bur­well, Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nee to be­come Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary, cen­ter, is greeted by Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can. Sen. Coburn de­scribed her as “com­pe­tent.”

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