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Sebelius skips SHOP details

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Rep. David Joyce tried – and failed – to get information about the new public small group exchange system today at a hearing.

Joyce, R-Ohio, used his time at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing to try to scrape up some news about the Small Business Health Options Program.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to the hearing – on the proposed HHS budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 – with no SHOP details.

Joyce noted that HHS announced in November – after many small employers already were applying for SHOP coverage through HHS-run exchanges – that the HHS-run exchanges would be able unable to process the applications. HHS told the employers to re-file the applications directly with the insurers selling group qualified health plans through the SHOP exchanges.

“That was very disruptive to small employers,” Joyce said.

HHS is still releasing no information about SHOP enrollment automation development efforts, testing or availability, and it has published no data on 2014 SHOP enrollment, although numbers from state-based exchanges suggest the numbers may be minuscule, Joyce said.

“Madame Secretary, how many employers are enrolling in the SHOP program today?” Joyce asked.

Sebelius said she didn’t have the numbers but that they are in in the latest exchange enrollment report. The numbers are not in that report.

Joyce also asked for a timeline for SHOP development milestones.

“I don’t know that off the top of my head,” Sebelius said. She added she would get Joyce the information.

Also at the hearing:

  • When asked whether HHS had disqualified vendors from future projects or fired Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services staffers as a result of the problems with the start of the public exchange plan open enrollment period, Sebelius said, “We changed day-to-day management immediately at CMS.”
  • Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee complained about the low level of growth in research spending in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2015 HHS budget proposal. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., noted that the United States is holding research spending flat as a percentage of income while China and South Korea are increasing research spending. “We cannot afford flat budgets that hamper innovation,” Lowey said. Life sciences research can lead to advances that make people’s lives better, and it’s an important economic engine in its own right, Lowey said.

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