5 Tough Questions for Obamacare’s Chief
Policy + Politics

5 Tough Questions for Obamacare’s Chief

Obamacare’s top chief Sylvia Mathews Burwell is heading to Capitol Hill this morning to be grilled by lawmakers on the latest challenges facing the president’s health care law. 

The Health and Human Services secretary can expect to field questions on her agency botching tax credit information for 800,000 people, HealthCare.gov’s tech problems, and a looming Supreme Court case that threatens to rip apart the entire law. 

Related: Obama Can’t Save Obamacare from the Supreme Court 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans sent Burwell a letter ahead of the hearing asking her to explain what, if anything, the Obama administration will do in the event that the Court strikes down health care subsidies for some 8 million people getting coverage through the federal exchange. 

The HHS secretary responded on Wednesday, saying her department has no contingency plan to stave off any potential disaster if the Court sides against them. Still, her response won't likely satisfy lawmakers that will almost certainly have more questions about the case and its implications. 

Lawmakers have already promised to ask Burwell about HealthCare.gov’s glitches and unfinished “backend” of the website used to verify subsidies and insurance information. Last week, Politico reported, “behind the scenes, HealthCare.gov is still a mess.” 

Related: This New Poll Shows Why Obamacare Court Ruling Could Be Devastating 

On top of that, the administration admitted to sending nearly 1 million people the wrong tax credit information that could have a serious impact on how much they receive in federal subsidies. 

Don’t count on lawmakers to run out of questions for Burwell. 

In the meantime, here are 5 questions The Fiscal Times has for the HHS Secretary:

1. What, if anything, is the administration currently doing to prepare for an adverse ruling in King v. Burwell?

Burwell said Tuesday that the administration doesn’t have the power to do anything if the Supreme Court rules against it. However, Congress and state lawmakers do. It’s likely that the White House could be working behind the curtain to persuade lawmakers on both the state and federal level to develop a backup plan.

Related: Doh! Obamacare Website Botches Subsidies for 800,000

2. If the Court strikes down subsidies for people in the 37 states relying on the federal exchange, how and when will it start affecting people getting subsidized coverage in those states?

Though hypothetical, if the Court does rule against the administration, about 8 million people stand to lose their subsidies, so how will it work? Would their subsidies immediately stop in June after the decision is announced? Will the government have to recoup the money from these people? How will the administration inform enrollees about how to proceed?

3. 800,000 people received incorrect tax information, which means their monthly premiums were either too high or too low. How many were over compensated and what was that total?

Related: Thousands to Get Booted From Obamacare Plans

This is important because the administration announced on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be recouping money from people who received too much in subsidies. This means that other taxpayers are picking up that bill because of that error.  

4. Does HHS expect more people to receive incorrect tax information from the website?

We know the back-end of the website is still not built, and existing glitches resulted in 800,000 people getting the wrong information already… how will the administration resolve the issue to the satisfaction of taxpayers and lawmakers?

5. When will the backend of the website be finished? And why is it taking so long?

The Fiscal Times and other publications reported last year that the website’s “backend” was unfinished. Now, one year and $2.1 billion later, the website is still not functioning properly. If HHS is still building this, how much more will this project cost?

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