The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

More Transparency for Obamacare

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Exchange Information Disclosure Act (H.R. 3362) by a bipartisan vote of 259 to 154.  This is the second of two bills that bring more transparency to exactly what is happening with respect to security and actual enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.  I wrote about the other legislation, the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act (H.R. 3811) here, which also passed with bipartisan support, 291 to 122.

For those of you that have been following the Obamacare rollout closely, one of the more frustrating issues is discovering exactly who has enrolled and paid for their first month’s premium compared to who has simply selected a health plan that is sitting in the exchange’s shopping cart.  Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has admitted in Congressional testimony that when she says “enrolled” it actually means the person has “chosen” but not necessarily paid.  Until the policy is purchased, chosen doesn't mean much.

HHS could provide the numbers of those who have paid their premium but they will not release them.  If they honestly don’t know, they could ask the insurance companies to provide the information.  One would think that the administration would want to know how many people are buying a policy.  Granted, the back end of the website is still being built and much of this work is being done manually, such as transferring enrollment lists to the insurance companies.  Does anyone doubt if the paid enrollment numbers were good, the administration would be shouting them out at every opportunity?

Here is what the legislation attempts to do according to an Energy and Commerce Committee press release:

  • Requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide the American people and Congress weekly reports on the status of HealthCare.gov.
  • The reports will provide key metrics regarding HealthCare.gov, including unique website visits, accounts created, qualified health plan selection, and Medicaid enrollment.
  • The amended bill also would require HHS to provide data on the number of Americans who have fully enrolled in an exchange plan by paying their first month’s premium, as well as the age of exchange enrollees.
  • Requires regular reporting regarding technical issues affecting HealthCare.gov and HHS efforts to address such issues.
  • HHS must also disclose updated lists of navigators, certified application counselors, agents and brokers certified by exchanges

According to the committee, the reason this information is important is “it will allow policymakers and the public to assess the law’s progress, it will allow state insurance commissioners to better understand and predict future enrollment trends and prices, and it will hold the administration accountable, rather than allowing information to be released piecemeal, on a delayed basis, or not at all.”  The committee also stated, “Despite repeated questions from Congress, the administration has failed to provide adequate information on the numbers of Americans who are actually enrolled through an exchange or basic demographic information.  The failure to disclose these key metrics is stunning given that the administration initially defined success as the number of Americans enrolling in the program and whether the ‘risk pool’ is properly balanced between the younger and older Americans.”

The administration has stated in the past that at least 40 percent of exchange enrollees need to be the “young invincibles,” those between 18 and 34-years old.  According to a recent report released by HHS approximately 24 percent have selected a plan.  That is certainly far below the number that is needed for the exchanges to actuarially work.  But because the administration says selected means “those who have paid a premium and those who have not yet paid a premium” we really do not know the accurate number of young people who have purchased health insurance.  This number is important because if there are too many sick and older people in the exchanges and not enough healthy young people contributing to the overall cost of insurance coverage, taxpayers are on the hook for bailing out the insurance companies.  This is precisely why Senator Rubio (R-Fla) has introduced legislation to prevent this from occurring.

It is even more pressing to get these numbers because – surprise – the Administration has again moved the goal post for what constitutes success in Obamacare, which use to be 7 million enrollees, by March 31.  Instead of enrollment numbers, the new goal is the “mix of young and old people.”

Of course, the most transparent administration in history has issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the legislation.  CAGW’s lobbying arm the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, which supported the legislation, argues that Obamacare has been paid for with billions of taxpayers’ dollars and they have a right to know how it is performing.

The legislation now moves onto the Senate.  If history is any judge, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will do everything he can to not allow a vote on the legislation.

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