All Trust, No Verify At HHS

Photo of Sen. Mike Johanns and Sen. Jerry Moran
Sen. Mike Johanns and Sen. Jerry Moran
U.S. Senators from Nebraska and Kansas
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      Sen. Mike Johanns and Sen. Jerry Moran

      Sen. Johanns: On January 6, 2009, Mike Johanns was sworn in as U.S. Senator for Nebraska. He won the support of an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans by demonstrating principled leadership throughout more than 30 years of public service.

      Senator Johanns serves on four committees: Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Appropriations; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Veterans Affairs.

      Johanns has established himself as a legislative leader on issues that are not only important to Nebraska but also the nation. He has introduced and championed common-sense legislation dealing with issues ranging from agriculture to veterans to small businesses.

      After hearing from businesses in Nebraska about a provision in President Obama’s health law that would have created a paperwork nightmare for job creators, Johanns began an effort that gained bipartisan momentum and the 1099 reporting mandate was repealed. On agriculture, he is leading the fight against harmful government regulations and continuing his work on a long-term, reform-minded farm bill that focuses on risk management tools. One of the first pieces of legislation to be signed into law for 2013 was the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained Johanns’ legislation to help returning veterans find civilian employment and supplied funding to continue work on the new command facility for the Strategic Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base.

      Before being elected to the Senate, Johanns was appointed the 28th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2005. For nearly three years he worked to expand foreign market access for U.S. producers, promoted the growth of the renewable fuels industry and advanced cooperative conservation. Additionally, Johanns developed an in-depth farm bill proposal, which became the foundation for improvements and reforms adopted in the final 2008 farm bill.

      Johanns also served as Nebraska's 38th governor from 1999 to 2005. As governor, he promoted an agenda of tax relief, less government, building the economy, protecting families, and ensuring the health, safety, and success of Nebraska's children.

      Johanns served on the Lancaster County Board from 1983 to 1987, and on the Lincoln City Council from 1989 to 1991. He was elected mayor of Lincoln in 1991 and was reelected in 1995 without opposition. He successfully ran for governor in 1998 and was reelected in 2002.

      He grew up on a farm where he learned a work ethic that has been put to use serving the people of Nebraska and this country. The values he developed while growing up serve as the foundation for his commitment to public service. Johanns is a graduate of St. Mary's University of Minnesota. He earned a law degree from Creighton University in Omaha and practiced law in O'Neill and Lincoln.

      Johanns is married to Stephanie Johanns, former Lancaster County Commissioner and Nebraska State Senator. The couple has two children and five grandchildren.

      Sen. Moran:
      After serving seven terms in the United States House of Representatives, Kansans elected Jerry Moran to the United States Senate in 2010. Since joining the U.S. Senate, Senator Moran has been a leading advocate for protecting and preserving the special way of life in Kansas.

      Senator Moran has a long history of opposing reckless spending on Capitol Hill, and forcefully advocates for spending cuts, tougher funding standards, and broad reform as a member of the Appropriations Committee. Through his work on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Senator Moran continues his long-time commitment to strengthening the economy, opening up foreign markets to U.S. exports, and fostering the growth of small businesses. Also, as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, one of his top priorities is improving the quality of life for the nearly 250,000 veterans living in Kansas.

      In November 2012, Senator Moran was unanimously elected into Senate Republican Leadership by his colleagues to serve as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). In this new role, Moran is working to recruit the most qualified and dynamic candidates and to raise the resources necessary to make a difference in the 2014 election.

      Before his election to public office, Jerry Moran attended Fort Hays State University and later the University of Kansas. After an early career as a small town banker, he received his J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law. Jerry and his wife Robba continue to live in Kansas.

The problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act have been well documented. A glitch-laden website, wave after wave of delays, massive uncertainty, and a string of broken promises are clearly visible symptoms of this flawed law. What has also become extremely concerning are the issues occurring behind the scenes — issues the Department of Health and Human Services claimed had been fixed — that threaten to create more pain for individuals and families.

Former Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell recently replaced Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of HHS. Along with a new office, she is inheriting the fallout from the marred Obamacare rollout and new information that important safeguards needed to process applications have yet to be built.

Recent revelations suggest HHS may be hemorrhaging taxpayer dollars because the systems required by law to verify consumers’ eligibility for Obamacare subsidies do not exist. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans may be receiving tax credits for which they do not actually qualify. Others may not be receiving the subsidies allowed under the law to help pay for health insurance. As Ranking Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees that oversee HHS and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spending, we are very concerned that the administration is failing to protect taxpayer dollars from waste and abuse.

Consumers attempting to enroll in Obamacare exchange health plans are required to submit their income level, citizenship, and immigration status, which may qualify them for tax credits and other cost-sharing reductions to obtain coverage. The initial round of these tax credits began in mid-January 2014. But according to recent media reports, more than two million of those applications contain data that is not consistent with other federal records, and the government currently does not have a dependable system in place to address the discrepancies.

The administration has no way of knowing the amount of taxpayer dollars going to ineligible consumers, or how many Americans were denied assistance they were eligible for under the law. One thing is clear: When it comes to ACA errors, the stakes are high. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the ACA’s insurance coverage provisions are expected to cost $36 billion in taxpayer dollars in 2014 alone. More than $1 trillion is projected to go toward exchange subsidies and related spending over the next decade. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the average ACA tax credit to be about $2,700 per family this year.

It is disturbing to think that any government official would knowingly proceed with implementing such a costly law without a robust, reliable verification system, so when the administration issued a rule rescinding requirements designed to safeguard taxpayers, Congress acted to address this problem. This final rule, issued by HHS last summer, disregarded the ACA requirement that exchanges verify consumers’ income and indicated the government would “accept the applicant’s attestation [regarding eligibility] without further verification.” In response, Congress passed legislation requiring a stringent verification process to be in place before tax credits were issued.

In early January, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured Congress that “the Marketplaces have implemented numerous systems and processes to carry out these verifications” to determine eligibility for premium subsidies such as tax credits and cost-sharing reductions. So, why are more than two million applications in question while the government struggles to sort out inconsistencies? And, if the administration is able to identify irregularities, why are tax credits being distributed to potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans who do not actually qualify for them?

Whether this is the result of the administration’s race to bolster enrollment numbers by scaling back requirements, or simply another example in a long list of systemic failures, the American taxpayer is being forced to foot a hefty bill for a broken law. This administration’s push to implement the ACA, despite a minefield of flaws and the outright absence of necessary safeguards, is creating a greater burden for taxpayers as credits are doled out despite stacks of unresolved applications.