System to safeguard ObamaCare information is months behind schedule

ObamaCare's federal health insurance exchange is months behind on tests related to protecting privacy, putting officials in a tight spot as the Oct. 1 enrollment launch draws near, according to a government investigator.

The agency behind the new exchange is "working with very tight deadlines" after officials delayed testing of the marketplace's crucial security apparatus, the federal Health department's inspector general (IG) said in a report.

Security tests are now set to take place this week and next after they failed to happen in early June. 

The revised schedule means the exchange's data system will not be deemed secure or insecure until Sept. 30, one day before enrollment is scheduled to begin.

"Several critical tasks remain to be completed in a short period of time," the IG report stated. 

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Wednesday said the agency has made “significant progress” on the data hub since the IG investigation was conducted.

"We are on schedule and will be ready for the Marketplaces to open on Oct. 1. This study was conducted in May, and we have made significant progress in the three months since then,” said CMS spokesman Brian Cook.

The report highlights the challenge facing ObamaCare's implementers, who have insisted the new federal exchange will open on time, and plays into criticism by Republicans that the rollout is proving too difficult for regulators.

Data security is paramount to the marketplace since applicants will be required to submit a variety of sensitive details, including Social Security numbers, in the process of obtaining insurance.

The exchange is designed to give would-be policyholders an immediate eligibility decision by pinging other agencies through a data hub.

An applicants' income and citizenship information will be checked in real time against databases at the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, for example.

While the data hub will not store these details, some fear hackers could enter the system and gain access to the connected federal databases.

The IG report raises questions about whether the federal exchange will in fact open on time and whether the data hub will be ready to give immediate determinations about insurance eligibility.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner confidently predicated last week that the exchange will open on time and said that live testing of the enrollment system is 80 percent complete.

"As we've identified any vulnerabilities, we have corrected them," Tavenner told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last Thursday. "So right now, we are in good shape."

A Medicare spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. 

The IG report was released on Friday. 

This story was updated at 11:02 a.m.