Tuesday’s federal appeals court decision in Halbig v. Burwell focused the public’s attention on the shaky legal ground upon which the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized coverage provisions are founded. In spite of the best efforts of the administration and it’s defenders to reassure the public that those who enrolled in ACA plans through the federal exchanges will continue to receive financial assistance, the seeds of apprehension have been sown. That anxiety will not be easily alleviated.
In fact, that trepidation may have been exacerbated just hours later when the findings of a government investigation into the ACA and fraud was released. According to the findings of an investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office which were presented to Congress on Wednesday, some of those taxpayer-funded subsidies are not merely legally problematic but are also subject to extensive fraud.
The GAO found that 11 of 12 applications for federal assistance while applying for insurance provided through the ACA using “fictitious identities” were accepted. “For each of our 11 approved applications, we paid the required premiums to put policies into force, and are continuing to pay the premiums. For the 11 applications that were approved for coverage, we obtained the advance premium tax credit in all cases,” the report read.
In six other applications, GAO investigators also tried to sign up fake applicants with in-person representatives. But in five of those cases, GAO was “unable to obtain in-person assistance” for various reasons, including one representative saying they could not help because HealthCare.gov was down.
“We are examining this report carefully and will work with GAO to identify additional strategies to strengthen our verification processes,” administration spokesman Aaron Albright said. At least on paper, fraudsters risk prosecution and heavy fines.
The GAO said its investigators concocted fake identities using invalid Social Security numbers and falsely claiming citizenship or legal residence. In other cases, they made up income figures that would disqualify them from getting subsidies.
The GAO also found that contractors processing applications were not aware that they had to vet applications for potential fraud, that five out of six falsified applications for coverage submitted by telephone were accepted, and that an online identity checking system could be easily bypassed.
Conn Carroll notes that, in spite of the fact that this blockbuster investigation has received virtually no coverage in the mainstream press, it has nevertheless sparked some grumbling in liberal ranks:
Obama’s complete failure to prevent fraud in his signature domestic accomplishment even had some liberals questioning the administration. “This lack of oversight just isn’t acceptable,” Indiana University School of Medicine professor Aaron Carroll (no relation) blogged, “The GAO should be checking this stuff, and the administration should be responding to it. Let’s see what happens.”
Carroll should not hold his breath. Obama has every incentive to get as many “beneficiaries” signed up for Obamacare no matter how fraudulent they are. Democrats have made the number of “Americans” enrolled in Obamacare the defining metric for the law’s success. There simply is no penalty for signing up fake people.