The government may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million Americans for their health plans in the new federal insurance marketplace and has been unable to fix the errors, according to internal documents and three people familiar with the situation.

The problem means that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are receiving bigger subsidies than they deserve. They are part of a large group of Americans who listed incomes on their insurance applications that differ significantly — either too low or too high — from those on file with the Internal Revenue Service, documents show.

The government has identified these discrepancies but is stuck at the moment. Under federal rules, consumers are notified if there is a problem with their application and asked to upload or mail in pay stubs or other proof of their income. Only a fraction have done so, according to the documents. And, even when they have, the federal computer system at the heart of the insurance marketplace cannot match this proof with the application because that capability has yet to be built, according to the three individuals.

According to various recent internal documents, income discrepancies are the most frequent kind of inconsistencies among insurance applicants, and they exist on 1.1 million to 1.5 million out of nearly 4 million inconsistencies overall. Of the total inconsistencies, the documents show, consumers have uploaded or mailed in about 650,000 pieces of “proof” — or for about one inconsistency in six.

The federal rules say that consumers have 90 days after applying to try to prove that their information is correct and, if an inconsistency is not resolved by then, whatever the federal records show is assumed to be correct. By now, about one-third of people with inconsistencies have passed their 90-day window. But because of the trouble verifying incomes, the government has not lowered or raised anyone’s subsidies.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary


Jeffrey R. Ungvary