Kusserow on Compliance: GAO enrolled fictitious applicants through the Marketplace

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent “congressional watchdog” agency that investigates federal government expenditures. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) provides for the establishment of health insurance exchanges, or Marketplaces, where consumers can compare and select private health insurance plans. The ACA also expands the availability of subsidized health care coverage. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost of subsidies and related spending under the ACA at $28 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2015. The ACA requires verification of applicant information to determine eligibility for enrollment or subsidies. Filing a federal income tax return is a key control element, designed to ensure that premium subsidies granted at time of application are appropriate based on reported applicant earnings during the coverage year.

The GAO was asked to examine controls for application and enrollment for coverage through the federal Marketplace and, thereafter, it conducted a review to assess the enrollment controls of the federal Marketplace. On July 16, 2015, the agency reported the results of undercover testing of the Marketplace application, enrollment, and eligibility verification controls using 18 fictitious identities. The GAO submitted or attempted to submit applications through the Marketplace in several states by telephone, online, and in person. There were 18 undercover tests performed in 2014, 12 of which focused on phone or online applications. The GAO found that the Marketplace approved subsidized coverage for 11 of the 12 fictitious GAO applicants who obtained a total of about $30,000 in annual advance premium tax credits, plus eligibility for lower costs due at time of service.

For seven of the 11 successful fictitious applicants, GAO intentionally failed to submit all required verification documentation, but the Marketplace did not cancel subsidized coverage for these applicants. The agency also found errors in information reported by the Marketplace for tax filing purposes for three of its 11 fictitious enrollees, such as incorrect coverage periods and subsidy amounts. The GAO shared details of its observations with CMS during the course of its testing, to seek agency responses to the issues raised. Other observations of the Marketplace included:

  • that all inconsistencies between applicant information submitted and information available from verification sources were not recorded;
  • unresolved inconsistencies based on fictitious documentation that GAO submitted;
  • failure to terminate coverage for several types of inconsistencies, including social security number data or incarceration status; and
  • automatically reenrolled coverage for all 11 fictitious enrollees for 2015.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2015 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.