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Harris: Subpoenas issued in federal review of state health exchange

Maryland’s troubled Health Benefit Exchange is the subject of subpoenas issued by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the state’s only Republican member of Congress.

Rep. Andy Harris, in an appearance on The C4 Show on WBAL radio, said that the subpoenas were issued as part of an ongoing federal audit that began earlier this year.

“We understand that subpoenas have been issued,” Harris said on the show. “There is the real possibility of legal proceedings and illegal activity having gone on.”

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Harris called the subpoenas “ a significant increase scope of the OIG actions” and added that “evidence of fraud appears to be present.”

“The Office of Inspector General has moved this from an audit into a full blown investigation,” Harris said in his statement. “The investigation has included the issuing of subpoenas. I called for the audit of the Maryland exchange because tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted and those who wasted it should be held accountable. Now we know that fraud may have occurred and subpoenas have been issued. Lt. Gov. Brown was in charge of the exchange and it appears fraud may have gone on under his watch. Those who wasted and abused taxpayer money, including politicians, must be held accountable.”

A spokesman for Harris said the congressman was informed that a number of subpoenas were issued in late July. The exact number and targets of the subpoenas were not immediately known.

Donald White, a spokesman for the Office of the Inspector General, could not confirm the issuance of subpoenas.

“As a matter of standard law enforcement policy, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can neither confirm nor deny investigations that may or may not be pending before the agency,” White said.

Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the exchange, said that the agency was not the target of the subpoenas.

“The exchange has not received a subpoena,” Garrett said. “We’re in close communication with the I.G. and helping in every way we can.”

Garrett said he could not speak to who received the subpoenas.

The failures of the state site in the first year resulted in the General Assembly creating a legislative oversight committee. Leaders of that committee have repeatedly resisted calls to hire an independent investigator with subpoena powers, and a more formal review by the Office of Legislative Audits will not be completed until next summer — months after the 2014 election.

A spokesman for Brown, who led the creation of the state site and is running for governor, criticized Harris for publicly discussing the subpoenas.

“It’s disappointing that Congressman Harris would mislead the people of Maryland and play political games with a federal investigation, but it is clear that the Republicans will say anything to achieve their extreme right-wing agenda,” Brown spokesman Justin Schall said in an emailed statement. “Neither the Lt. Governor nor anyone in his office has received any communication or requests from the office of the Inspector General or any other federal agency.”

Larry Hogan, the Republican candidate for governor, said the investigation was important in helping the public understand why the site failed and who is responsible.

“Today’s reports that the Obama Administration has issued subpoenas in connection with the failed Anthony Brown Health Exchange underscore the seriousness of this matter and the O’Malley-Brown administration’s failure to come clean with the people of Maryland,” Hogan said in an emailed statement. “Taxpayers deserve to know how Anthony Brown and his colleagues were able to waste $200 million in tax dollars on a website, why no one acted to correct problems with the exchange until it was too late, what happened in all those closed-door meetings and whether contracts were improperly awarded.”

The federal inspector general’s office is a nonpartisan organization, staffed with career employees and with subpoena powers.