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HHS Secretary Faces Subpoenas on Basic Health Program

By Kerry Young, CQ Roll Call

March 29, 2016 -- Two House committees on Tuesday issued subpoenas to the Department of Health and Human Services seeking information about $1.3 billion that they say was provided for implementing part of the Affordable Care Act without first securing a needed appropriation.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., each intend to compel HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to appear to address funding of the Basic Health Program. The program was created by the 2010 health law to give states the ability to provide more affordable coverage for people living in or near poverty. 

Both subpoenas call for an April 12 appearance.

"We've been trying to get answers since last June, but HHS simply will not cooperate. The administration funneled $1.3 billion last year into the Basic Health Program without a congressional appropriation—a clear violation of the law," Brady and Upton said in a statement. "Our good faith attempts to learn basic, and targeted facts have been met with resistance every step of the way."

The program is an option for states to use federal dollars to subsidize coverage for people whose income is between 139 percent and 200 percent of the poverty line.

The top Democrats on these House committees were quick to criticize their GOP counterparts.

"This partisan attack is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and points to an abuse of House Republicans' ability to unilaterally issue subpoenas," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce panel, and Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel. "Committee chairmen on both sides of the aisle have long recognized that subpoenas should be used as a last resort, not simply to add fuel to political fights."

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