Republicans Probe 3 States With Failing Obamacare Exchanges

Monday, 17 Feb 2014 07:22 PM

By Melanie Batley

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Republican lawmakers are launching investigations into the failures of three of the nation's state-run Obamacare exchanges, a move which is putting Democrats on the defensive as both parties gear up for an important election year.

The healthcare websites in Oregon, Maryland, and Massachusetts are all coming under scrutiny both for their functional failures and for staggering costs that have left taxpayers footing the bill, The Hill reports.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the Government Accountability Office requesting a review of the $304 million in federal grants Oregon received to fund its exchange, which has yet to enroll one person online.

"The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability," wrote the lawmakers, led by Oregon Rep. Greg Walden.

The fate of the Oregon exchange is currently in doubt, but Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber insists the state is making progress in signing up residents for the federal healthcare program.

"Congress will do what Congress will do just so long as it does not slow down the process of getting Oregonians healthcare," he said, according to The Hill.

"Already more than 225,000 Oregonians have enrolled in quality, affordable coverage, including more than 35,000 in private insurance plans."

Kitzhaber's office also noted that the state is "using large parts of the technology [it] purchased to calculate what people are eligible for, help them get access to financial assistance, and service their accounts."

Maryland's healthcare exchange is also hanging in the balance. For months, state officials have been debating whether to abandon the state-run portal and instead adopt, but GOP lawmakers are now escalating the issue by calling for a federal investigation into the troubled website.

"By the end of the year, over $100 million federal dollars will have been spent on a project that should have cost much less, and doesn't work," Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Jack Kingston of Georgia wrote in a letter Wednesday to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson.

"As a result of the fact that Maryland appears willing to continue to waste tens of millions of more federal dollars, we ask that the investigation start immediately."

The lawmakers also accuse state lawmakers and administration officials of ignoring warnings from auditors that the site was critically flawed and not ready at the time it was to be launched.

"Despite all of these warning signs, Maryland chose to continue to waste and abuse federal taxpayer money by opening up what they knew was a flawed exchange to the public," they wrote.

"Subsequent to the disastrous rollout, additional federal dollars continue to be spent attempting to fix what… might not even be fixable."

The lawmakers also asked the agency to determine whether federal funds might be recouped on the project, The Hill reports.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley did not return a request for comment, according to The Hill.

Meanwhile, officials running Massachusetts' healthcare exchange are under mounting pressure as the state's site continues to be plagued by technical problems.

It currently has the worst enrollment percentage in the country, The Hill reports.

The Boston Globe reported Thursday that the state's exchange director, Jean Yang, was reduced to tears during a board meeting that discussed the problems the agency was facing. Officials are currently working to process 50,000 paper applications.

"These people came here to lead and innovate, and instead they're doing manual workarounds, and they are embarrassed to tell friends and family that they work for the Health Connector," Yang said, according to The Globe.

"We have to work harder. That means I need to tell the staff members they're not doing a good enough job and I'm telling them that, even though they have been doing this tirelessly for months, and they're exhausted."

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