HHS IG Briefs Committee on Coronavirus Oversight Work
Washington, D.C. (May 26, 2020)—Today, Christi A. Grimm, the Principal Deputy Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provided a video briefing to the Committee on her office’s ongoing oversight of HHS’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today’s briefing reminds us why our watchdogs are more important than ever,” said Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney. “I applaud the work of the HHS IG—and all our IGs—to oversee the use of taxpayer dollars and help improve this Administration’s abysmal response to the coronavirus crisis. Congress must now pass legislation to protect Inspectors General from the President’s politically motivated attacks so they can do their jobs for the American people.”
“The work of the HHS IG and all Inspectors General across the federal government is critical to providing transparency and accountability to our nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including actions that were or were not taken to protect the health and lives of Americans,” said Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerald E. Connolly. “Inspectors General will also be doing the important work of conducting anti-fraud investigations and audits to ensure that COVID assistance provided by Congress are being spent lawfully. Inspectors General are a pillar of our democracy and foundational to accountability, and Congress must protect their independence in order to ensure that they are able to do their jobs without fear of retaliation.”
At the briefing with Principal Deputy Inspector General Grimm:
- Ms. Grimm reported that her office found after a survey of hundreds of hospitals that rampant shortages of protective equipment and testing supplies resulted in numerous “downstream effects.” She reported that hospitals “had to treat patients as though they were presumptive positive, which impacted bed capacity and staff and additional access to masks and gowns and other protective equipment.”
- Ms. Grimm highlighted the widespread impacts of hospitals’ testing challenges, noting, “Testing and access to tests and the time it took to get test results back was reported as a challenge, and again that resulted in treating patients as though they were presumptive positive, which had several downstream effects.”
- Ms. Grimm described HHS’s response to the coronavirus epidemic as “a monumental responsibility with life and death consequences.” She described the report as “just the beginning of the work we are doing looking at the coronavirus response.”
- Ms. Grimm also warned the Committee of ongoing fraud schemes that put Americans at risk, especially Medicare beneficiaries. She warned that “fraud schemes proliferate during emergencies.” She also stated, “It is despicable, and it is happening during this pandemic.” She said that scammers offering fake treatments and nonexistent vaccines “are targeting scared Medicare beneficiaries with schemes designed to steal their Medicare numbers.”
- Ms. Grimm reiterated the need for Inspectors General to do their work independently and committed to continuing oversight of the coronavirus response, stating, “Independence is the cornerstone of the IG Act.”
- Ms. Grimm warned that “anything that is done that could impair independence, I think, compromises the effectiveness of oversight of programs that are there to serve the American public.” Ms. Grimm also emphasized that “providing unpopular information” does not “drive decision making” in the IG’s office.
- Ms. Grimm outlined her office’s strategy for conducting oversight—including 14 active coronavirus-related reviews and dozens of additional topics in development.
- Ms. Grimm informed Members that her office is continuing work relating to the Administration’s roll-out of coronavirus testing, including examining the Food and Drug Administration’s role in facilitating testing and conducting an audit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s dissemination of test kits to state public health labs, as well as additional topics.
- Ms. Grimm confirmed her office has potential work “in the pipeline” in response to a letter from Committee Member Katie Porter regarding award procedures for research and development contract issued by the Biomedical Advance Research Authority under the leadership of ASPR Secretary Robert Kadlec.
- Ms. Grimm also confirmed that the IG’s office will conduct an audit of the disbursement of $50 billion through the Provider Relief Fund, with the possibility of examining the methods by which HHS determined how funds should be distributed following reports that wealthy hospitals received hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund while smaller, poorer hospitals received little.