(Bloomberg) — Congress should split the agency that runs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) health programs and Medicare from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to keep the White House from having too much influence over its operation, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch said.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health programs for the elderly and poor, is too big, said Hatch, a Utah Republican. The agency consumes about 85 percent of the $1 trillion HHS budget.
“For some time now, I have been concerned about the amount of influence HHS and the administration has over the operations and policies impacting the entitlement programs run by CMS,” Hatch said in his opening statement for a hearing on the department’s budget. “It is time to start talking about making CMS an independent agency apart from HHS.”
CMS is responsible for implementing large parts of PPACA, or “Obamacare.” Republicans passed a bill yesterday to repeal the law. President Obama has said he would veto any such measure.
The Social Security Administration was separated from HHS in 1994, when it accounted for about 51 percent of the department’s staff and more than half its budget, Hatch said. He said he will introduce legislation to make CMS independent.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the HHS secretary, told Hatch’s committee Wednesday, at a hearing on the HHS budget, that almost 10 million people have chosen qualified health plan (QHP) coverage this year through the PPACA exchange system, including 7.5 million through the federal HealthCare.gov website and 2.4 million through state-run programs.
To achieve its goal of 9.1 million paying customers, or what is called effectuated enrollment, HHS has estimated it would have to get about 10.3 million people to choose exchange QHP coverage..
The Obama administration has proposed giving about $84 billion in discretionary budget authority to HHS in federal fiscal year 2016, which starts Oct. 1, up from $79 billion in budget authority this year.