The leader of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday accused the Obama administration of scheming to cover up failures with its healthcare website, which he said put millions of people’s health data at risk.
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said federal officials responsible for the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov have refused to cooperate with government investigations, and blamed their recalcitrance on a “cozy relationship” with the Democratic Party.
Issa charged that Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), had deleted emails related to HealthCare.gov to block a federal investigation.
During the hearing, Issa read aloud Tavenner’s email asking her staff to delete their correspondence and asked if she had written it. She replied that she had, adding that the emails contained information about the president’s schedule.
The emails between Tavenner and her staff are part of a 26-page report released late Wednesday titled “Behind the Curtain of the HealthCare.gov Rollout.”
Attention has been refocused on the website’s security after federal officials reported Sept. 4 that HealthCare.gov had been hacked earlier that summer, though no data had been compromised.
The security of the website came into question again this week after a federal audit reported “deficiencies” in security that had put personal information at risk.
Tavenner said that nearly all of the fixes recommended by the Government Accountability Office had already been made.
“There’s very little that concerns me more on a daily basis than the security of this website,” Tavenner said. “We have, even within our limited resources, spent a great deal of time and money securing the website.”
The Obama administration has been skewered over the last year for its botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, which kept millions of people from accessing the site. Now with the second year of enrollment approaching, House Republicans are aiming their attacks against the site’s security flaws, blaming HHS for disregarding consumers’ data when it decided to go ahead with the launch.
Issa read aloud “secret email chains” between CMS and HHS officials, describing staffers as “informants.” He quoted an email from one CMS official, who said she planned to raise concerns about security with another official at HHS.
“I’m going to give him a truthful update of exactly what is going on. I am tired of the cover ups,” the email reads.
But Kevin Griffis, a senior adviser for HHS, refuted claims that officials have failed to cooperate with investigations.
He said staff from HHS and CMS have supplied 140,000 pages of documents, in addition to responding to “hundreds of Congressional letters and inquires.” Officials have also testified at more than 50 hearings, including 14 in recent months, he said.
“It’s well known that HealthCare.gov’s launch faced challenges, but we immediately worked to fix the issues,” Griffis said, adding that the agency has taken the lessons from the last year to prepare for a smoother rollout Nov. 15.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the committee, fought back against what he called a drawn-out attack by Republicans against the Obama administration.
“I completely agree that [the federal exchange] website must be secure. That is why it’s so heartening that, despite all of the challenges with the rollout last year, nobody’s personal information has been compromised to date,” Cummings said.
Witnesses from both CMS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reiterated that no data had been compromised through the healthcare website.
This story was updated at 4:39 p.m.