HHS is not aware of any consumers intentionally falsifying information to get subsidies for insurance exchange coverage, Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell testified Tuesday at a hearing.
Her testimony came days after the Government Accountability Office issued a preliminary report that documented how its investigators were able to sign up for coverage, get insurance subsidies and re-enroll with made-up information.
“These are the only examples (of fraud) that we know of,” Burwell said at the hearing held by House Education and the Workforce Committee.
She added that there are numerous barriers in place to prevent such abuse and that in the first quarter of this year HHS kicked 117,000 people off the exchange after it couldn't verify information that was submitted. Thousands more have had their subsidies reduced after their information couldn't be verified, she added.
It's unclear if any of these people knowingly supplied false information, Burwell said.
Burwell added that she's frustrated because if cybersecurity needs to be beefed up, HHS wouldn't know where to start. The GAO has yet to issue any formal recommendations and won't reveal exactly how the investigation was conducted. HHS has been told by GAO it won't provide specifics on the deceptive tactics it used so it can protect sources and its methods, Burwell said.
GAO officials have also recently testified on the Hill that they has no proof that anyone actually fraudulently enrolled in coverage through the federal website.
Despite the lack of evidence of outright fraud, Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate continue to use the GAO report as an example of the Obama administration failing to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely.
Just as the hearing was winding down Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), along with all Finance Committee Republicans, sent a letter to CMS acting Administrator Andy Slavitt asking how the agency verifies and authenticates information used to enroll in the marketplace. Hatch has promised he will raise the GAO's findings during Slavitt's forthcoming confirmation hearings.
Slavitt previously worked as a group executive vice president of Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group. He was one of the executives helping with the so-called tech surge to fix HealthCare.gov in the months after it launched in 2013.
“The GAO findings show that there has been a rise in major problems with enrollment controls, with little to no improvement. The findings highlight CMS' conscious decision to downplay program integrity in order to focus on mass enrollment,” the senators wrote.
A CMS spokesman didn't immediately respond to request for comment.