IRS Official: ACA Rollout Going Well, Consumer Data Safe
During a House committee hearing Wednesday, Sarah Hall Ingram -- director of the Internal Revenue Service's Affordable Care Act Office -- assured lawmakers that IRS' implementation of the ACA has been smooth and that it is not experiencing problems like those with the federal exchange website, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/9).
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA's individual mandate is constitutional and that fines levied against individuals who fail to purchase insurance are permitted as a tax. Under the ACA, IRS is tasked with enforcing the individual coverage mandate (California Healthline, 5/20).
Specifically, IRS is responsible for:
- Collecting the taxes and fees relating to the ACA and individual mandate;
- Determining consumers' eligibility for federal tax subsidies; and
- Penalizing large employers that fail to offer affordable coverage to workers (Winfield Cunningham, Politico, 10/10).
In her testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hall Ingram sought to alleviate some lawmakers' concerns about IRS' handling of consumers' information and the agency's efforts to protect that data from unauthorized access (Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 10/9). She assured them that IRS' system for verifying consumers' eligibility for federal subsidies is secure and that the exchange's federal data hub is working well (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/9).
According to Hall Ingram, IRS as of Tuesday has processed "several hundred thousand" requests for data from exchanges nationwide. She said the agency also has developed a new process to protect consumer tax information that will be used when consumers enroll in the exchanges (CQ Roll Call, 10/9). The information is "secured behind the scenes" and it "is not shown to anybody who is applying or who is assisting them," she said (Baker , "Healthwatch, The Hill, 10/9).
Hall Ingram noted that actual tax information will remain private but that the amount of tax credits an applicant will qualify for is shared (CQ Roll Call, 10/9). If the information is compromised in any way, IRS has the capability to "turn off the switch in minutes" to secure the data, she added (Politico, 10/9).
Republican Committee Members Target Hall Ingram's Credibility
During the hearing, some Republican committee members raised concerns about Hall Ingram's credibility and suggested that she violated consumer privacy on several occasions, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/9). Those concerns stem from Hall Ingram's role in IRS prior to leading the agency's ACA office.
Earlier this year, IRS admitted that it had placed extra scrutiny in recent years on tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status. Hall Ingram was in charge of IRS' tax-exempt organizations division from 2009 to 2010. She assumed the role of director at the ACA office in 2011.
In May, House Republicans argued that the controversy was proof that IRS cannot fairly carry out its functions under the ACA and introduced legislation that would bar the agency from enforcing any of the law's provisions. In August, the House approved a bill (HR 2009) that would block IRS from implementing or enforcing any ACA provisions (California Healthline, 8/5).
During Wednesday's hearing, Republicans also released email exchanges between White House and IRS staffers about the contraception mandate of the ACA. According to "Healthwatch," the emails show that White House health care adviser Jeanne Lambrew sought technical assistance from IRS officials -- including Hall Ingram -- about the types of tax filings that would be necessary to grant religious organizations exemptions from the law's contraception mandate.
Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) noted that the emails, provided by IRS, included redacted information because they included confidential tax records. He noted that if IRS deemed such information confidential, the agency should not have shared them with the White House.
Committee member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, "Now, under the Affordable Care Act, Americans have to give personal information to the IRS -- to the same lady, the same organization, that potentially ... shared all kinds of personal information with the White House political people." He added, "It sure looks like someone broke the law here."
In response, Hall Ingram said that she was "not conscious of ever sharing [confidential] information with anyone at the White House" (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/9).
GOP Argues for Penalty Delays
Meanwhile at the hearing, several committee members argued that the Obama administration should delay the penalties under the individual mandate by one year to 2015, the New York Times' "In Practice" reports.
Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) said, "This is the most messed-up, convoluted, confusing law that's ever been passed," and called the administration's rocky rollout "ridiculous, and kind of sad."
Issa agreed, calling the first week of open enrollment in the exchanges "a mess," adding that the "law is not ready for prime time" (Pear, "In Practice," New York Times, 10/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.