U.S. House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing on Problems of State Exchanges

Latest update, 10:10 am PDT: Kitzhaber advisor Greg Van Pelt has faced few questions during the last three hours of this hearing.  In general, when asked a question, his response has been that he does not have an answer and will have to get back to the committee with the information.

7:45 a.m. PDT:

Two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have begun a joint hearing this morning titled “Examining ObamaCare’s Problem-Filled State Exchanges.”

A live feed of the hearing is available here.

press release issued by the commitee earlier this week explains that the point of the hearing is to “examine the failures of the state exchanges and the implications for taxpayers and consumers, as well an example of a state that has been able to navigate its exchange launch better.”

The witness list includes six officials representing state-based health exchanges in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, California and Oregon.

Veteran health care executive Greg Van Pelt will testify on the experience of Cover Oregon.  Van Pelt retired last April as CEO of Providence Health & Services in Oregon and has been acting as an advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. He is also president of the influential Oregon Health Leadership Council.

The first witness is Tom Matsuda, interim executive director of Hawaii’s troubled exchange, which has been allocated more than $200 million in federal grants and has enrolled 7,242 individuals in private plans.

8:05 a.m.:

The witnesses have been making statements to the committee. Following Matsuda, the witnesses have been, in this order:

  • Joshua Sharfstein, M.D., Chairman, Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Board
  • Jean Yang, Executive Director, Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange
  • Peter Lee, Executive Director, California Health Insurance Exchange
  • Scott Leitz, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange

They’ve all conceded bumps and glitches, but are emphasizing success and progress.  They’ve also made the point — in Lee’s case, several times — that their exchanges “are more than a website.”

Next up: Van Pelt.

8:20 a.m.

Van Pelt said he was appearing at the hearing on behalf of Cover Oregon Interim Executive Director Bruce Goldberg because Goldberg recently suffered a broken leg.

He referred to the First Data report on Cover Oregon that Gov. John Kitzhaber released two weeks ago and said the governor has taken “numerous steps” in response to that report.

“We do think some things have worked very well,” Van Pelt said. He noted that more than 200,000 people have enrolled in coverage since October.  “We continue to be proud of the work we have done to improve the lives of Oregonians.”

[Cover Oregon released updated enrollment numbers today showing that nearly 59,000 people have enrolled in QHPs through the exchange and more than 140,000 have enrolled in Medicaid.]

8:30 a.m.

So far, Van Pelt has avoided heavy grilling from committee members.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tried to open up a line of questioning by asking Van Pelt: When did Cover Oregon inform the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that its website wasn’t going to work?  But Gosar didn’t get far.  Van Pelt simply deflected the question by directing Gosar to the First Data report that he had submitted with his written statement.

8:45 a.m.

Another easy deflection for Van Pelt. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., asked him how many people in Oregon have had their policies canceled as a result of the ACA.  He then informed Van Pelt, “The number I have is 135,000.” He then asked, How many people have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon as of April 1? Van Pelt told him about 65,000 had enrolled in QHPs and about 140,000 in Medicaid.

“So more people have had their policies canceled than have signed up for coverage” in QHPs, said DeSantis.  But rather than continue with his questions, he noted abruptly that his time had run out.

No direct hits yet on Cover Oregon.

9:10 a.m.:

Sharfstein got a tough grilling from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. But he stayed calm and carried on. Sharfstein is a former staffer on the oversight committee, so he knows how this goes.

Sharfstein said Maryland’s exchange board voted Tuesday to hire Deloitte Consulting to replace most of Maryland’s online marketplace with the system Deloitte developed for Connecticut. Deloitte had developed successful online marketplaces for several states, including Washington.

10:10 am:

Van Pelt has faced few questions during the last three hours of this hearing.  In general, when asked a question, his response has been that he does not have an answer and will have to get back to the committee with the information.

Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla., just asked Van Pelt if Cover Oregon is sustainable. Van Pelt assured him that it is.

A few minutes later, Lankford asked how health co-ops established under the ACA have been performing in Oregon. Van Pelt said he would have to get back to him with the details.

10:16 a.m.: After more than three hours, the hearing was adjourned.  Several Democrats on the committee noted that it was the 25th hearing that the House Oversight & Government Reform had held to examine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.