By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
Pressed by House Republicans, directors of troubled state insurance exchanges said Thursday that they could fix continuing Affordable Care Act glitches with grant money they have already received and would not ask for future federal bailouts.
Members of the House Oversight & Government Reform committee sought to turn their attention to the technical glitches after a week of celebration for the White House, which surpassed its goal of signing up more than 7 million under the new health care law.
Witnesses called to Capitol Hill included the current and interim heads of the exchanges in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon — which have all had varying degrees of problems.
(As a counterpoint, Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, touted the successes of California’s exchange, which has enrolled some 1.2 million people — more than any other state in the country.)
Opening the hearing, U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma said he was troubled that thousands of applications in those states were processed by hand because of dysfunctional systems and that many consumers were forced to use “error-ridden” websites. He and other members demanded an accounting in the coming weeks of how much grant money was used to manually sign up consumers who were stymied by faulty technology.
“How is it possible that after three and a half years, and spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds, so many states were not able to construct working websites?” Lankford asked the panel. “How many more taxpayer dollars may be requested to bail out troubled state exchanges next year?”
In part because of the ample grant awards that were parceled out to the 14 states that created their own exchanges, only Hawaii signaled an urgent need for financial assistance next year. Hawaii has signed up about 7,596 people in private plans after designating about $100 million in federal grant funds. Though they still have about $100 million in remaining federal grant money, they cannot use that money for operating costs in 2015.
Because most Hawaii employers already had to provide coverage under a state law that has been in place for 40 years, that state’s consumers have shown little interest in buying plans through the exchange, which has deprived the agency of fees that it was counting on. Legislators in Hawaii are considering the creation of fee on every health plan sold in the state that would pay for the up to $15 million that the exchange would need to operate next year, and director Tom Matsuda said the nonprofit exchange is looking at ways to further cut its expenses.