Politics & Policy

An Obamacare Watchdog

Pace Nancy Pelosi, we still don’t know what’s in the health-care law.

Americans were shocked when Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the Affordable Care Act: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” It seemed bad enough that the bill was rushed through Congress with virtually no debate or amendments, but now its architects refuse to give the American people a full picture of the law as it stands today. Six months into implementation, Obamacare is wreaking havoc on Americans’ health-care decisions, spiking out-of-pocket costs, and limiting access to doctors; millions of Americans have lost their health-care plans altogether.

Because the president’s legacy is so closely tied to the success of the health-care law, the administration is operating under a win-at-all-costs mindset. The White House is changing rules and bending policy to serve its political needs, without regard to the uncertainty and the new costs such moves create for Americans forced to live under the law. Just yesterday, in a brazenly political move, the administration announced that health-care plans it previously considered “junk” can continue into 2017 in order to prevent millions more insurance-cancellation notices from hitting mailboxes before the midterm elections.

That’s why today I introduced legislation to create a Special Inspector General for Monitoring the Affordable Care Act — or SIGMA — an office to be tasked specifically with examining the implementation and administration of the ACA across the many federal departments, state exchanges, outside contractors, and a deeply involved White House in a way that no single oversight official currently can. SIGMA will serve as an independent watchdog, conducting audits and investigations to discern the full story and report directly to the American people on what decisions are being made, how the law is performing, and whether families and businesses are better off.

Congressional oversight has been dogged, but the administration is going to great lengths to withhold key information from the public about the law’s true impact. As facts dribble out little by little, we’ve learned that the White House knew all along that the president’s promise of “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it” was flat-out false. We’ve seen how the White House delayed a series of controversial health-care regulations until after the 2012 elections, withheld enrollment data while the HealthCare.gov website was faltering, and has gone so far as to pressure contractors not to release information about their work on HealthCare.gov after it was duly requested by Congress.

With SIGMA, the administration’s PR machine will no longer be the only source of information on the ACA’s performance. Upon enactment of this bill, SIGMA will have 120 days to file its first report on the implementation and administration of Obamacare. SIGMA must then file quarterly reports with Congress, and release them to the public, in order to provide a detailed and objective accounting of Obamacare on an ongoing basis. SIGMA will automatically sunset with one final report once the law is no longer in effect. The legislation specifically requires SIGMA reports to cover 32 essential aspects of the ACA, including its impact on out-of-pocket costs, its shrinking of doctor/provider networks, how contracting is handled, Medicare cuts through the Independent Payment Advisory Board, rights of conscience, the role of the IRS, HealthCare.gov’s data security, the administration’s repeated unilateral changes to the law, and much more. SIGMA is authorized to compel responses, subpoena documents and data, and access all the materials necessary to thoroughly account for all Obamacare-related activities. Any refusal to cooperate will be reported to Congress and the public immediately through a built-in mechanism that ensures the Obama administration can no longer hide from the facts about its health-care law.

Recent special inspectors general have been remarkably successful. Beginning in 2004, the Special Inspectors General for Iraq (SIGIR) and Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) have produced $645 million and $480 million in direct taxpayer savings, respectively. And since 2008, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) has used the broad investigative powers provided by Congress to rack up 122 convictions, 75 suspensions and debarments of federal contractors and employees, and $533 million in direct taxpayer savings. At $700 billion, the jurisdiction of SIGTARP was the largest to date, but that program pales in comparison to the $1.8 trillion in costs under Obamacare.

Individuals of all political stripes should agree that we need to know how government programs are performing so that we can change or eliminate the parts that are broken.

In 2007, Senator Obama worked to strengthen the powers of SIGIR and require that office to “conduct a series of audits to identify potential waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement.” In 2008, Senator Obama called for TARP to include “an independent board to provide oversight and accountability for how and where this money is spent at every step of the way.” In 2009, President Obama signed legislation authorizing a more powerful SIGTARP.

In the Senate, as a presidential candidate, and as president, Barack Obama has a long record of calling for increased transparency and accountability in the federal government. This new legislation represents perhaps his best chance yet to deliver results, creating a system to inform the public about the workings of the health-care law, protect taxpayer dollars, and ultimately create an environment for better, more knowledgeable decision-making. I urge all my colleagues who want to see every American have access to quality, affordable health care to support this legislation.

— Congressman Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) serves as chief deputy whip in the U.S. House of Representatives and served with State Senator Obama in the Illinois General Assembly. 


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