House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) revealed the first prong of the House Republicans’ 2014 Obamacare agenda Thursday: expose security concerns. In a memo to Republicans, Cantor said he plans to schedule a a vote next week on a bill to “strengthen security requirements” on Healthcare.gov. Roll Call obtained a copy and printed portions of Cantor’s message. The plan includes a provision that requires ”prompt notification in the event of a breach involving personal information” to heighten security. Action by Republicans is necessary, Cantor says, because “the Administration has downplayed the risk of a data breach, perhaps in part because their primary goal is signing people up for insurance through the Exchange.”
In December, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) issued a memo to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Democratic Members and Staff concerning the security of HealthCare.gov. The purpose was to make public declassified portions of a briefing members had received on the state of personal information on Healthcare.gov.
“The briefing revealed that there have been no successful security attacks on Healthcare.gov. According to Dr. Charest, no person or group has hacked into Healthcare.gov, and no person or group has maliciously accessed any personally identifiable information from users,” the memo stated. There had been 32 “security incidents,” eleven remained under investigation at the time, and the remainder were not significantly concerning, or dangerous, to investigators.
However, Republicans in the House have remained unconvinced. At a testimony in November four witnesses appeared before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and voiced concern about the lack of security on Healthcare.gov. After the hearing concluded, Chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) sent a request to President Obama. “Given the testimony we have heard today, there is only one reasonable course of action. Mr. President, take down this website.” Cantor too, echoed the sentiment that the website is not doing enough to allay concerns. “American families have enough to worry about as we enter the new year without having to wonder if they can trust the government to inform them when their personal information — entered into a government mandated website — has been compromised.”
Democrats are skeptical that the vote, legislation, or memo are ultimately concerned with protecting the interest of the American people. Drew Hammill, spokesperson for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement in response to the Cantor memo. ”It’s time for Republicans to drop the partisan and ideological games, and work with Democrats to strengthen and build upon this historic law.”
“It is clear that the New Year has brought no change in heart for House Republicans. 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,” Hammill added.
This security-standoff is a continuation of a previous, partisan battle. In December, House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter, explaining that he found the security assessment by contractor MITRE Corporation displayed “a disturbing lack of judgment” by the Health and Human Services officials “who decided to go forward with the launch of HealthCare.gov despite warnings of security vulnerabilities that placed sensitive information of website users at risk.”
The Democrats fired back in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Pelosi. They wrote to say that the “sensitive documents should not have been provided to the Committee without adequate protocols to safeguard their contents.” However, since the documents had been provided, there was “an obligation to understand the harm that would be caused if these documents were disclosed.”
“It is reckless in the extreme for chairman Issa or any member to possess these documents without a full understanding of the extremely sensitive information they contain and the widespread damage that could be caused if they got into the wrong hands,” the Democrats stated. The issue appears to be roaring back into Congress with 2014, but it is not solely about personal information on the website. The Hill reports the Cantor memo also included a section where he discussed an how the security concerns fit into an broader strategy. “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.”