Tavenner Defends ACA’s Effect on Economy, Business Hiring Trends
On Thursday, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner defended the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation's economy and assured lawmakers that the law has only had limited impact on employers' hiring trends, Reuters reports.
In her testimony during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Tavenner refuted some lawmakers' claims that the ACA has forced certain small businesses to reduce the work hours of some employees so they would not need to comply with the law's employer coverage mandate for full-time workers. She acknowledged that such practices are occurring but described them as "isolated incidents."
Tavenner said, "I've met with large employers in Georgia and Florida. I've met with small employers. I've been all across this country," adding, "I actually talked to over 1,000 small businesses in Miami a couple months ago, and what they're doing is, they're trying to learn about the law and see if they can make it work for them" (Morgan, Reuters, 8/1).
However, some committee Republicans argued that Tavenner and other Obama administration officials have failed to notice increasingly frequent reports in the media about the ACA's effects on small businesses (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1). They also questioned the administration's ability to implement the law on schedule, citing the administration's decision last month to delay by one year the law's employer mandate.
Tavenner insisted that the implementation plan is in "good shape" and offered lawmakers a timeline of ACA deadlines that officials intend to meet in the next few months. She said the government is expected to:
- Announce participants in the law's insurance exchange navigator program on Aug. 15;
- Complete testing of the exchanges' enrollment and data systems by the end of August;
- Release the final exchange application by the end of August; and
- Issue details of premium rates for plans offered on the federally run exchanges in September.
Tavenner also noted that 80% of the exchange enrollment system's live testing is complete, which involves all the agencies necessary for verifying applicants' information (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1).
She assured lawmakers that CMS will conduct a "100% review" of applicants' income levels when they apply for coverage through the federally run exchanges, while states will have the option of delaying such checks for one year. Tavenner noted that the reviews will be conducted for the subset of applications that cannot be verified through current income data sources, such as the Internal Revenue Service and Equifax.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chair of the panel's Health Subcommittee, asked Tavenner whether CMS has determined how it will apply a 7% reduction in the law's cost-sharing subsidies scheduled to take effect in fiscal year 2014 as part of the sequester. According to Tavenner, the agency has not yet discussed the reduction with state and federal exchange officials and pledged to obtain that information from the Office of Management and Budget (Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 8/1).
Cohen Echoes Tavenner, IRS Official Reassures Lawmakers on Tax Credits
Meanwhile, Gary Cohen -- deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at CMS -- on Thursday echoed many of Tavenner's comments and guaranteed that CMS will review 100% of individuals' reported income levels for enrollment in the exchanges, the Washington Times reports (Howell, Washington Times, 8/1).
In testimony during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Cohen noted that if such data cannot be verified through available sources -- like the Social Security, IRS and Equifax -- HHS will request the individual provide documentation -- such as pay stubs -- to check their reported income. However, several committee Republicans expressed concerns about the IRS' ability to collect subsidy payments that are made in error or are too generous.
In response, IRS Principal Deputy Commissioner Danny Werfel -- who also testified at the hearing -- explained that unlike income tax credit, health subsidies would be administered to consumers through insurers and not directly from the federal government (CQ Roll Call, 8/1).
Werfel also addressed privacy concerns raised by Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.), saying the IRS has "all kinds of safeguards and procedures that we put in place when sharing taxpayer information outside of the IRS" (Hattem, "RegWatch," The Hill, 8/1).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.