Regardless of whether you love ObamaCare or hate it, we should all support the idea that government should use our money properly, not wasting or misusing it.
That’s why Rep. Peter Roskam’s (R-Ill.) SIGMA Act (Special Inspector General for Monitoring the Affordable Care Act) should have robust support: this proposal would create a special inspector general to provide more information about how the health reform law is being implemented and ensure that the public trust isn’t being abused.
Although many people have worked tirelessly to monitor and report on the ACA, internal government watchdogs have easier access to information than those of us outside. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services has an inspector general, who revealed in June that HHS couldn’t verify whether $3 billion in ObamaCare subsidy payments were correct.
As Investor’s Business Daily reported, “it might have made subsidy payments to people who signed up but didn't pay their premiums. Or it could have paid too much or too little.” That’s troubling, but far better for Americans to have this information than to be in the dark.
Still, the HHS inspector general can only do so much: the complex nature of ObamaCare makes it difficult to track all the various grants, contracts, exemptions, and new rules that constantly flow through different agencies and departments. This structure makes it easy to hide the law’s failures and waste in a messy big government bureaucracy.
Imagine how much more we would know if the Affordable Care Act had its own special inspector general to audit and track the implementation of the law. Unlike the current HHS inspector general, an ObamaCare SIG would have unique authority to oversee the law across all eight federal government agencies it affects.
Consider that we were first told the law would create 159 new government bureaus of its own, but then the Congressional Research Service admitted there would be an “unknowable” number of new government offices under the ACA.
The Congressional Budget Office occasionally attempts to measure the law’s costs and projected costs, but its April 2014 report similarly acknowledged that the long-term fiscal impact was impossible to track.
This shouldn’t be acceptable. Our government ought to do a better job telling us how our tax dollars are being spent and what results we are seeing (or not seeing) from ObamaCare. This is the role that a special inspector general would fill by providing definitive information on premium increases, out-of-pocket costs, subsidy payments, grant expenditures, and the law’s impact on Medicare and Medicaid.
Also importantly, a SIG could track ObamaCare’s “Three R’s” and government’s relationship with insurance companies. These are the Reinsurance program, the Risk Corridors, and the Risk Adjustment program.
The American public knows very little about these programs, which some have called an insurance industry “bailout.” The Three R’s were always intended to protect insurers, but we deserve to know how money is being spent and why.
The work of this office would complement the efforts of “outside” (nongovernmental) watchdog organizations, by providing clearer information and data about the actual workings of the law. This would also make it more difficult for the law’s cheerleaders to make sweeping generalizations like “it’s working!”
Democrats may hesitate to support more oversight of a program that they created. Yet if they truly want this law to succeed, they ought to want to prevent the misuse of resources and ensure a clear record of the law’s implementation.
Understandably, fiscal conservatives are hesitant to create any new government offices, even watchdog positions. Other special inspector general offices have cost taxpayers around $300 million each.
But on the flipside, their investigative work in other (smaller) parts of government has resulted in more than $10 billion in savings just in the last decade. It’s safe to assume that a SIGMA could turn up more than enough savings to pay for its own office and operations.
Conservatives can continue to work for the repeal of the ACA (and for market-driven healthcare reforms), but in the meantime, a special inspector general could help reveal waste and abuse within the law’s complex structure.
If we succeed in repealing the onerous law, this office will finish its work and close up shop. Until then, lawmakers would be wise to institute such an office as an internal watchdog.
Manning is the director of healthy policy for Independent Women’s Voice.