A closer look at the Obamacare data hub

We’ve learned that the IRS has been improperly targeting and scrutinizing conservative groups and that the Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of Americans were inadvertently posted on IRS.gov. The American people are outraged and rightly so.

But a critical component of Obamacare will make the potential for abuse even greater.

The Federal Data Services Hub, a key part of Obamacare’s exchanges set to go live on October 1, will connect seven different government agencies and create a new access point to the personal health information of millions of Americans. Proponents of the health care law say the hub is necessary to verify eligibility for the law’s myriad of subsidies and tax credits.

The IRS will provide employment and income verification. The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide information on veteran status. The Department of Homeland Security will furnish information on immigration status. Even the Peace Corps will be a part of the hub’s data collection effort. Individual state governments will also contribute and have access to the data.  Potentially thousands of people, scattered around the nation, could have access to every American’s private information.  

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Names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, employment information, gender and ethnicity status of millions of American families will all be available through the hub. University of Minnesota finance professor Stephen Parente said it “could be the largest consolidation of personal data in the history of the republic.”

In California, where state officials are preparing to launch their exchange, State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones recently expressed concerns about protecting data. “We can have a real disaster on our hands," he told the Associated Press.

The hub’s scope will be vast, and the potential for theft or abuse of your personal information will be unprecedented. Indeed, it is cause for great concern.

Yet only a few months before the hub is slated to go live, critical questions about the hub remain unanswered: Who will have access to this information? How secure will it be from cyberattack? What training and clearances will be required to access it? What measures will be taken to protect the data from abuse?

Last month, we held a joint hearing to give Congress an opportunity to investigate these questions in detail. Appearing before us were representatives of the government agencies integral to the data hub’s creation.

Committee members of both parties expressed concerns over the security of the data that will be included in the hub. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.) said the data hub would have a “bullseye” on it for hackers.

What we heard from the witnesses provided little confidence that the personal data of millions of Americans will be secure when the data hub goes live. CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner admitted that she had still not been briefed by either the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security on the threat of cyberattack.

It’s no secret that the massive federal bureaucracy is struggling to meet key deadlines for Obamacare’s implementation. In the scramble there is a real concern that in their haste to implement this nearly impossible hub, federal bureaucrats will cut corners or make potentially dangerous mistakes. That is why we have introduced legislation to delay implementation of the data hub. It is clear that the federal government does not yet have the policies, procedures, and tools in place to keep Americans’ sensitive information secure. We must take every precaution and not rush this through to meet an arbitrary deadline. An enormous task such as this demands it.

Meehan has represented Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Ethics, the Oversight and Government Reform, the transportation and Infrastructure and the Homeland Security committees, and is chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies. Lankford has represented Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Budget and the Oversight and Government Reform committees, and is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements.