Astrue blasts HHS watchdog

Michael Astrue (AP photo/Tony Dejak) Michael Astrue (AP photo/Tony Dejak)

A former federal official who predicted in September that HealthCare.gov would have huge problems says the president should replace the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. 

The former official, Michael Astrue, was the commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 2007 to 2013.

Astrue said Daniel Levinson, the HHS inspector general, contributed to the problems at HealthCare.gov and other components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchanges by failing to devote more of the resources of his office to PPACA-related audits.

Levinson's office did just one short, vague report in the summer, Astrue said.

“I challenge you to read the list of inspector general audit reports for this year and to identify just one report that you wouldn’t trade for a thorough audit of the functionality and security of the exchanges,” Astrue said. “In short, good government requires a new inspector general.”

Astrue, appointed by President George W. Bush, has included those remarks in written testimony posted on the House Energy & Commerce Committee website.

Astrue is testifying today at a House Energy health subcommittee hearing on problems with PPACA implementation.

The HHS inspector general works for HHS and is appointed by the president. Levinson was appointed to his post by Bush, as well.

Astrue said HealthCare.gov ran into problems partly because Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, failed to put a full-time project manager in charge of the HealthCare.gov project or to schedule regular project meetings.

Jeffrey Zients, the official now in charge for the HealthCare.gov “IT surge,” is an “able public servant,” but he lacks the time to make the changes needed to fix the exchanges in just one month and to test those changes properly, Astrue argued.

One weakness with the HealthCare.gov system is that it is sending unencrypted data through data networks, Astrue said.

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