Having agreed to a debt-ceiling deal that met almost none of the demands Republicans made when they instigated the crisis three weeks ago, GOP leaders are claiming to have achieved one policy win: the so-called income verification requirement for Obamacare. The thing is, it’s not really a win.
Under the Affordable Care Act, low-income Americans qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance. When they go online to sign up for a plan on an exchange, they have to tell the government how much money they make so it can determine if they’re eligible for subsidies. The exchanges are supposed to be able to verify in real time whether applicants are telling the truth.
So far that’s not happening—just one of the many flaws that have plagued the rollout of healthcare.gov, the massive data hub that the U.S. built and which still isn’t fully functioning. Officials haven’t figured out a way to accurately sync up the info they need to confirm if applicants qualify for subsidies.
Republicans have said that as a result, some people who don’t deserve government assistance will get it. They wanted a guarantee against that. The debt-ceiling bill that Congress passed requires the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to write a report by January 2014 describing what steps it’s taking to verify incomes. Six months later, the Inspector General for the agency has to report to Congress about the agency’s progress.
The law doesn’t have much tooth to it, in other words. HHS says it’s already working to fix the problem. If things go badly and repairs to the federal exchange still aren’t completed by early 2015, the federal government will be able to verify incomes retroactively by checking the tax returns of those who received subsidies for 2014. The income verification requirement wasn’t much of a concession by Democrats, no matter how hard Republicans try to frame it as one.