Leaders of the House Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means committees have subpoenaed HHS to discover why the agency bypassed congressional authorization to fund a low-cost coverage program included in the Affordable Care Act.
The Basic Health Program allows states to use federal dollars to set up health plans for people whose income is above the Medicaid threshold but below 200% of the poverty level. To date only Minnesota and New York have pursued the option.
In New York individuals are spending as little as $20 per month in premiums under the program. That's significantly less than the national average of $100 that people pay for silver plans on the exchanges after subsidies. As of last month for both states, less than 500,000 people were enrolled in a Basic Health Program plan.
Republican House members argue that instead of seeking an appropriation, as required by the law, the administration redirected already appropriated taxpayer dollars to the program. They say HHS failed to comply with the committees' earlier requests for information.
“We've been trying to get answers since last June, but HHS simply will not cooperate," Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in a joint statement Tuesday. "The administration funneled $1.3 billion last year into the Basic Health Program without a congressional appropriation—a clear violation of the law,”
They gave HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell until April 12 to respond to the subpoenas.
HHS argues that it has been working with the committees to respond to requests for information regarding implementation of the Basic Health Program. They have sent letters, documents and webcasts, and offered an in-person briefing.
“We are disappointed the Committee has chosen to respond in this manner,” Ben Wakana, an HHS spokesman said in a statement.
Democrat lawmakers slammed the actions of their GOP colleagues.
“This partisan attack is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and points to an abuse of House Republicans' ability to unilaterally issue subpoenas. Committee chairmen on both sides of the aisle have long-recognized that subpoenas should be used as a last resort, not simply to add fuel to political fights,” Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said in a joint statement.