Why GAO Did This Study. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) aims to expand health insurance coverage and affordability. PPACA provides eligible individuals with PTC to help cover the cost of premiums for health plans purchased through a marketplace. CMS maintains the federally facilitated marketplace known as HealthCare.gov. IRS is responsible for processing PTC-related amounts on tax returns. The estimated fiscal year 2016 net outlay for PTC that was refunded to taxpayers was about $24 billion, while the estimated revenue effect from PTC that taxpayers used to reduce their tax liabilities was about $2 billion. GAO was asked to examine improper payments related to PTC. This report assesses the extent to which (1) CMS and IRS assessed the susceptibility of their PTC programs to significant improper payments; (2) CMS properly designed and implemented key control activities related to preventing and detecting improper payments of advance PTC; and (3) IRS properly designed and implemented key control activities related to preventing and detecting improper payments of PTC, including recovering overpayments and reimbursing underpayments of PTC. GAO reviewed the improper payment susceptibility assessments completed by CMS and IRS; interviewed agency officials; reviewed policies and procedures; and tested statistical samples of (1) CMS applications with advance PTC transactions during the 2016 open enrollment period and (2) income tax returns with PTC transactions processed during the first 9 months of fiscal year 2016. What GAO Found. In fiscal year 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) assessed its advance premium tax credit (PTC) program as susceptible to significant improper payments. CMS instituted a qualitative method for assessing the susceptibility of its program that was consistent with requirements, including assessing each of the nine required qualitative risk factors. However, CMS stated that it may not report improper payment estimates for the PTC program as required until at least fiscal year 2022 because of the complexity and timing of the process for developing such estimates. As a result, HHS's overall improper payments estimate will continue to be understated, and Congress and others will continue to lack key payment integrity information for monitoring HHS's improper payments. The fiscal year 2016 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assessment for its PTC program was not consistent with requirements nor did it demonstrate whether the program met applicable thresholds for susceptibility to significant improper payments. Until IRS conducts an appropriate assessment, it will remain uncertain whether IRS should estimate the amount of improper payments for its PTC program. Although CMS properly designed and implemented control activities related to the accuracy of advance PTC payments, it did not properly design control activities related to preventing and detecting improper payments of advance PTC, such as verifying individuals' eligibility. As a result, CMS is at increased risk of making improper payments of advance PTC to issuers on behalf of individuals. IRS did not design and implement certain key control activities related to preventing and detecting PTC improper payments, including recovering excess advance PTC overpayments. For example, IRS did not properly design procedures to routinely check for duplicate employer- or government-sponsored coverage. In addition, in 2015 and 2016, IRS used an ad hoc process for notifying nonfilers of the requirement to file tax returns; however, IRS did not establish procedures for sending these notices regularly during each filing season to facilitate compliance. Without properly designed control activities related to PTC, IRS is at increased risk of making improper payments to individuals. IRS faces challenges that affect its ability to design and implement procedures related to preventing and detecting PTC improper payments, including recovering advance PTC overpayments and reimbursing advance PTC underpayments. For example, IRS maintains that reduced resources have impaired its ability to implement needed controls. Further, statutory limitations contributed to IRS's inability to fully collect excess advance PTC overpayments and reimburse PTC underpayments and to automatically correct errors in tax returns. GAO previously suggested that IRS seek legislative authority to correct tax returns at filing based on marketplace data. The Department of the Treasury, on behalf of IRS, has submitted proposals for congressional consideration to permit IRS to correct such errors where individuals' information on tax returns does not match corresponding information provided in government databases. Congress has not yet granted this broad authority.
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