Watchdog Says Obama Administration Withheld Financial Data

The Government Accountability Office is asking for more healthcare reform-related transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Government Accountability Office is asking for more healthcare reform-related transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The government watchdog agency attempted to review how CMS spent $3.7 billion allotted to build and promote the federal healthcare exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. In particular, the agency wanted to look at spending for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, an agency within CMS.

However, GAO says CMS did not provide certain data related to CCIIO, such as expected expenditures for 2014, and information related to staffing levels.

As a result, the report says, “GAO was unable to consistently verify the reliability of the data received from CMS.”

GAO said CMS didn’t have procedures in place to identify certain CCIIO records, or to respond to non-routine records requests. Instead, the agency relied on “ad hoc manual procedures that were labor intensive and time consuming.”

GAO also notes that there was no documentation of how the information requests were processed, so it’s impossible to know if they were properly addressed.

“Collectively, these issues increase the risk that significant errors may not be prevented or detected and corrected before information is provided in response to requests from Congress and other decision makers,” the report concludes.

That’s significant, because cost and transparency have been at the heart of the debate over healthcare reform.

In its recommendations, GAO said CMS ought to identify and evaluate options to allow independently verifiable reporting of CCIIO’s financial management and also develop policies to respond to non-routine requests.

It’s unclear whether those recommendations will result in meaningful change, however. In its response to the report, HHS rejects the recommendations, saying GAO had enough information to verify the data.

“We believe the information provided to GAO was complete and verifiable based upon the information and transactional level data that was provided, consistent with published Operating Plans and the President’s budget,” HHS wrote, in its response.

In a press release following the release of the report, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) said the report shows the Obama Administration is unwilling to account for its handling of the Affordable Care Act rollout.

“After ignoring repeated requests from Congress, we now find out that the Administration is not even keeping track of how many taxpayer dollars are going out the door,” said Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. “Worse yet, the Administration won’t even account for how much it spent on public relations campaigns promoting their unpopular law.”