House GOP takes fresh aim at ObamaCare

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The House plans to take fresh aim at ObamaCare when it returns next week, with a vote on legislation to address security concerns within the new federal insurance exchange website.

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In a memo to Republican lawmakers on Thursday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he would schedule a vote on a proposal to require the government to notify individuals if their personal information has been compromised on HealthCare.gov.

Cantor cited the recent data breach at Target in which hackers gained access to the financial information of millions of customers, and he pointed to a study by the credit report bureau Experian warning that the healthcare industry would be the most susceptible to data breaches in 2014.

“If a breach occurs, it shouldn't be up to some bureaucrat to decide when or even whether to inform an individual that their personal information has been accessed,” Cantor wrote.

Four House committees have held hearings documenting the risks of data breaches within HealthCare.gov, and Cantor accused the Obama administration of downplaying the threat because it didn’t want to scare people away from signing up for insurance through the federal exchange.

An Obama administration spokesman, Aaron Albright, said Thursday in response to Cantor’s memo that “to date, there have been no successful security attacks on healthcare.gov and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information from the site.”

“The privacy and security of consumers’ personal information are a top priority for us,” said Albright, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which operates the website. “When consumers fill out their online Marketplace applications, they can trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards.”

“Security testing is conducted on an ongoing basis using industry best practices to appropriately safeguard consumers’ personal information,” Albright added. “The security of the system is also monitored by sensors and other tools to deter and prevent any unauthorized access.”

Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) have introduced proposals to require more transparency from the administration about data breaches, and they may be combined into legislation that would come to the House floor.

“It is my intent to schedule legislation on this topic when we return next week,” Cantor wrote. “And in the coming weeks, we will continue to address other areas where greater transparency is demanded, including the disclosure of reliable and complete enrollment data.”

Cantor’s memo is a signal that Republicans will continue efforts to go after ObamaCare in 2014 even after most of it has gone into effect. The GOP sees the law’s unpopularity and its troubled rollout as the key to maintaining and possibly expanding its House majority in the midterm elections.

Cantor alluded to broader efforts to repeal the law and act on a long-awaited Republican alternative, but he did not lay out a specific plan.

“These steps will be part of the overall effort to protect the American people from the harmful effects of ObamaCare by ultimately repealing and replacing the law with patient focused reforms that expand access, ensure quality care, and help control costs,” he wrote.

Democrats quickly criticized the GOP move, characterizing it as yet another attempt to undermine the new law that Republicans have opposed at every turn.

“It is clear that the New Year has brought no change in heart for House Republicans," said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "They continue to remain intent on undermining or repealing the Affordable Care Act at every turn, and that effort even extends to scaring their constituents from obtaining health coverage.

“Six million Americans began enjoying the security of health coverage this week, including 2.1 million Americans who have enrolled in a private health insurance plan through health insurance marketplaces," Hammill added. "It's time for Republicans to drop the partisan and ideological games, and work with Democrats to strengthen and build upon this historic law.”

— This story was updated at 4:31 p.m.