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Watchdog: IRS PPACA exchange systems worked well

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) got off to a fast start with sending accurate applicant information to the new public health insurance exchange system.

Russell Martin and other investigators at the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) have reported findings supporting that assessment in a new report on IRS efforts to support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange system.

See also: Watchdog: We’re grading IRS PPACA data

The PPACA open enrollment period for individual exchange plans started Oct. 1, 2013 and ended in mid-April in most of the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had trouble with launching, the enrollment website for the exchanges it ran. Some states with state-based exchanges had trouble launching their own enrollment systems.

TIGTA looked only at IRS systems, not at HHS or state-based exchange systems. It reviewed records for specific, relatively short periods of time.

The IRS — a division of the U.S. Treasury Department — was responsible for helping exchanges decide whether applicants had provided accurate information about their families and finances, and how much help the applicants could get from the PPACA advanced premium tax credit (APTC) program. The APTC program is supposed to help applicants with incomes from 133 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level pay qualified health plan (QHP) premiums.

During a TIGTA record review period that started Oct. 1 and ended Oct. 4, the IRS was sending the exchanges accurate answers to requests for income and family size verification (IFSV) information, TIGTA investigators write in their report. The IRS gave the exchanges accurate responses to 99.97 of the 101,018 IFSV requests received during that period, investigators say.

Similarly, during a TIGTA record review period that started Oct. 1 and ended Oct. 14, the IRS handled all 120,824 requests for APTC calculations it received accurately, investigators say. 

TIGTA investigators say the IRS had problems retrieving tax information for 33 people because of a glitch in a database that uses “name control” codes to track people. When individuals changed their last names many times, an IRS system would pull the first five name controls in a file, rather than the five most recent name controls. The IRS is already working to change the programming mistake that led to the error, officials say.

When investigators looked at the performance of the APTC calculator, they found four questionable responses: All were for people with incomes equal to exactly 400 percent of the federal poverty level. At the time, TIGTA investigators say, IRS regulations limited access to the APTC to people who earned “less than 400 percent” of the federal poverty level. Now, investigators say, the IRS is preparing to let people with incomes that are exactly 400 percent of the federal poverty level get the tax credit.

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