By Ken Berry
How's the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare – going? Just fine, thank you, according to the IRS official running the tax collection agency's end of the operation, notwithstanding the glitches that have cropped up the first two weeks of open enrollment.
Sarah Hall Ingram, director of the IRS office with oversight of Obamacare, has been testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Although individuals have encountered problems with the government's one-stop website, especially when trying to sign up for coverage online, Ingram claims it's not the IRS' fault.
"Our systems have come up on time and operated as planned in turning interactions around", said Ingram. The open enrollment for individuals in fourteen state-run exchanges, as well as a default to the federal government in states where an exchange isn't currently available, kicked off on October 1, 2013, and runs through March 31, 2014. Coverage will be effective as of January 1, 2014.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is shouldering most of the blame for website failures, but Ingram said the IRS is ready, willing, and able to step up when needed. The agency figures to play a prominent role in proceedings as Obamacare is unveiled. Not only will it be responsible for doling out tax credits and other subsidies to qualified households, the IRS is responsible for enforcing penalties under the law. The requirement for individuals to obtain minimum coverage takes effect January 1, 2014, but the mandate for employers has been postponed for one year, until January 1, 2015.
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the committee, seemed to give Ingram an out during the hearings. "Basically HHS has screwed this whole thing up . . . it's not your end of the business?" he asked Ingram. "That's not the part we've been working on, no", she replied.
Of course, the jobs of the HHS and the IRS weren't made any easier by the government shutdown. Ingram noted that the IRS is doing its best to hold up its end of the bargain. "What we've paid attention to is the need to have our computer systems be operational on October 1", she said. "There is a small number of people who have been in shop to support that portion."
Ingram also tried to allay GOP fears that the private information of taxpayers might be stolen. If a user's information is compromised, she says the IRS "can turn off the switch in minutes."
But Ingram is being grilled on more than her Obamacare activities. Previously, she served as the head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division, which has been recently vilified for targeting conservative groups for increased scrutiny. Ingram, who left the post in 2010, claims that she had no knowledge of the improprieties, but Republican committee members continued to hammer away at her during the hearings.
In a moment of levity, Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) facetiously asked Ingram if she had been "consorting with the devil" or was otherwise guilty of using witchcraft. Taking the cue, Ingram responded that she had not and that her ability to fly was "greatly exaggerated." However, after the brief exchange between Ingram and her supporter, it was back to business.