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Maryland’s Obamacare exchange now under federal investigation

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A second state Obamacare exchange is under federal investigation in as many weeks.

The inspector general’s office for the Department of Health and Human Services reportedly told Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris that it will proceed with an investigation into how Maryland’s Obamacare exchange spent copious amounts of federal grant money in the face of its failing exchange.

Oregon’s Obamacare exchange will also be investigated by the General Accountability Office after a separate request from House Republicans.

Harris requested the investigation last month along with Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston. Both congressmen sit on a House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees HHS.

“Maryland officials ignored early warning signs and chose to waste and abuse federal taxpayer money by opening up what they knew was a flawed exchange to the public,” Harris said in a statement Monday.

The website crashed on day one and has continued to face technical problems ever since. While state lawmakers have opted to continue with the state exchange through the current enrollment period, they’re still considering options for the next round of enrollment beginning in November.

Harris, a former anesthesiologist with John Hopkins Hospital and the state’s only Republican in Congress, lamented the fact that “Maryland has gained national attention as one of the worst roll outs.”

“This whole issue needs way more transparency,” Harris said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The announcement of Maryland’s investigation is the second in less than a week, following the General Accountability Office’s confirmation that it will take up an investigation into Cover Oregon at the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s request.

The GAO will investigate Oregon’s operations “as part of a broader study planned to examine states’ health exchange websites,” GAO managing director Katherine Siggerud wrote to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton.

Cover Oregon was awarded $304 million in federal funding for its Obamacare exchange — in addition to $160 million spent in state funding so far — but the website couldn’t support any online enrollment until weeks ago, when it launched limited online insurance enrollment for brokers only.

Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden applauded the decision to go forward with an investigation.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on this broken website, and taxpayers have little to show for it,” Walden said in a statement. “The GAO will take an independent look into what went wrong…their investigation will help taxpayers get answers about what happened at Cover Oregon and the over $300 million that has been allocated to the state.”

As noted in the Energy and Commerce Committee’s original letter to the GAO, officials were aware of warnings about the website’s problems as far back as November 2011.

Harris similarly charged Maryland officials with “waste and abuse” of taxpayer dollars despite multiple warning signs that the exchange would fail. The Maryland Health Benefits Exchange expects to spend $261 million, over 80 percent of its federal grants, by the end of 2015.

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