GAO to review state-based health exchanges

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said Wednesday it is planning to examine state-based health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, a move that could lead to a review of Maryland's troubled website.

In a letter to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress wrote that it would pursue a review of Oregon's exchange and that the effort would be folded into "a broader study planned to examine states' health exchange websites."


The letter did not specifically name Maryland's website, which crashed when launched Oct. 1 and has faced a series of technical glitches that have made it difficult for many to sign up for coverage. But there are indications that the state's site would come under the GAO study.

Gene L. Dodaro, the comptroller general and head of the GAO, discussed the issue with Rep. Andy Harris during a hearing Wednesday. Harris, the state's only Republican in Congress, was left with the impression that Maryland's website would be included in the GAO review.

Harris has separately requested that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services look into Maryland's exchange. Overall, the state expects to spend $261 million on the exchange by the end of 2015 — more than 80 percent of its federal money.

"The irresponsible spending of over $200 million federal taxpayer dollars on the dysfunctional Maryland exchange must be investigated by the federal government," Harris said in a statement.

Maryland typically makes the list of states that have had the most trouble, but a spokesman for the GAO said the agency has not decided which sites it will review.

The potential for a GAO study of Maryland's site, first reported by the Associated Press, would mark the first attempt by a federal agency to discover what went wrong. Email and other documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun showed that the development of the exchange had been plagued for months before its launch by major technical issues and warring contractors.

Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

The GAO review came to light after Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and other House Republicans requested that auditors look into that state's exchange, which by most accounts is in worse shape than Maryland's. In Oregon, officials have been forced to process many applications on paper.

Other states, including Massachusetts and Minnesota, have faced problems getting their sites to run smoothly.

Rep. John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat and frequent critic of the state's management on the issue, welcomed news that the GAO might look into the matter — though he said the state should take the lead.

"Like any waste of taxpayer money," Delaney said, "this should be investigated."