Three states whose state-run exchanges are failing spectacularly are being investigated by GOP members fed up with these exchanges receiving funds from the federal government. In Oregon, Maryland, and Massachusetts, all states with Democratic governors who supported Obamacare, the state-run portals are falling apart.
On Wednesday, four Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking it to look at the $304 million in federal grants that flowed to Oregon in order for the website to be built. The lawmakers wrote:
The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability… With the March 31 deadline for open enrollment fast approaching, the state of Oregon will need to make a decision on the fate of Cover Oregon soon. The catastrophic breakdown of Cover Oregon is unacceptable, and taxpayers deserve accountability.
The total number of people enrolled in Obamacare from the website is zero. The only people enrolled filed paper applications. The four lawmakers plan to yank some of the state’s $304 million in grants back if Oregon jettisons the state-run exchange and uses the federal system instead.
Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR) emailed The Hill a defense and a simultaneous attack on the GOP members, writing, “Congress will do what Congress will do just so long as it does not slow down the process of getting Oregonians healthcare. Already more than 225,000 Oregonians have enrolled in quality, affordable coverage, including more than 35,000 in private insurance plans… [the state is] using large parts of the technology we purchased to calculate what people are eligible for, help them get access to financial assistance, and service their accounts.”
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), thinking of the White House in 2016, has to answer questions about the state-run website posed by Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Jack Kingston (R-GA), who sent a letter to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson asking for an investigation. They wrote:
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. 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.
Harris and Kingston added that the state had ignored warnings from auditors that the site was seriously flawed:
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 pubic. Subsequent to the disastrous rollout, additional federal dollars continue to be spent attempting to fix what… might not even be fixable.
Harris and Kingston also asked the IG to see if federal money invested in Maryland’s site could be returned to the federal government and be recouped on the project. Maryland has signed up only 29,000 of the 77,600 enrollees that had been expected by the end of March, according to an Avalere Health analysis.
Lastly, in Massachusetts, which has the worst enrollment percentage in the country, only 17% of its expected total for 2014 have enrolled according to Avalere. The Boston Globe reported that the state’s exchange director, Jean Yang, tearfully tried to explain to her board why the site had failed so miserably. She wept:
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. 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.
On Friday, an official at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services revealed that the Centers have given Massachusetts a three-month waiver so the state could continue those enrolling in a new Connector plan.
In Oregon, Kitzhaber said, “No one is angrier than I am about the issues with CoverOregon. No one wants to get to the bottom of this more than I do. We do already have new CoverOregon leadership in place. And I won’t hesitate to take further action to make this right. That’s why I called in First Data to do an independent review of what went wrong and how.”