Senate Republicans allege CMS officials stonewalled the Government Accountability Office's attempts to probe HealthCare.gov's vulnerability to fraud.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Thursday in response to a GAO report documenting how its investigators were able to sign up for coverage, get insurance subsidies and re-enroll with made-up information.
Republicans on the committee said the CMS was hostile to the investigation. “Throughout the entire endeavor, officials at CMS appeared to be dragging their feet, blowing past deadlines and good-faith attempts to carry out this important work,” Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during the hearing. “When Congress asks GAO to conduct an inquiry, no federal agency should stand in the way of that work.”
Hatch said he would raise the issue up during confirmation hearings for Andy Slavitt, President Barack Obama's nominee for CMS administrator.
Democrats countered that the GAO report presented no evidence of actual fraud.
Neither Slavitt, who now serves as acting CMS administrator, nor anyone from the agency was called to testify at Thursday's hearing.
In response to the GAO's findings, an HHS spokeswoman said the administration has strengthened HealthCare.gov's security protocols.
“Over the last year, we have made continuous improvements to our processes and communications for those with a data matching issue as we work to bolster the integrity of the process,” she said. “Independent reviews provide an additional check as we work with an array of stakeholders to make improvements as the marketplace matures.”
As of March 2015, the CMS had terminated the enrollments of more than 200,000 individuals because they failed to properly verify their identities, and it has adjusted the tax credits of hundreds of thousands of others whose income could not be properly verified.
The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to request for comment on Hatch's claims that the CMS stonewalled the GAO's work.
Democrats dismissed the GAO's findings as anecdotal. In a rapid exchange with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during the hearing, a GAO official acknowledged that the watchdog agency has no proof that anyone actually fraudulently enrolled in coverage through the federal website.
Seto Bagdoyan, director of forensic audits and investigative service at the GAO, said the agency had been requesting actual enrollment data for months so they could investigate the presence and scope of actual fraud. Part of the holdup, Bagdoyan said, was that the CMS wanted to ensure the data handed over would be secure. The agencies have now reached an agreement that will allow the data to be shared in the next few days, he said.
The new information, along with the GAO's initial findings, will be wrapped into a larger report to be released this year. The GAO intends to evaluate the mechanisms the CMS has in place to prevent fraud and make recommendations to improve them.
Bagdoyan also confirmed that the GAO declined to release the fake names to the CMS, which was attempting to understand how the investigators were able to enroll and qualify for subsidies with bogus identities. The agency withholds such information to guard its investigative techniques, he said.
Wyden responded, “You certainly can't fix something you don't know about.”