Tomorrow’s Obamacare Controversy, Today

A memo obtained by National Journal will likely be the GOP’s next weapon against the health care law, but in context it’s more bark than bite.

Rocky rollout: HealthCare.gov.
(C)2012 RICHARD A BLOOM
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
Dec. 24, 2013, 9:16 a.m.

If past is pre­ced­ent, Re­pub­lic­ans on the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee will soon re­lease a draft memo they re­ques­ted and re­ceived from the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment just be­fore most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans de­camped for the Christ­mas hol­i­day.

At first glance, the memo, ob­tained by Na­tion­al Journ­al, looks very bad for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. In the Sept. 24 doc­u­ment, a top in­form­a­tion se­cur­ity of­ficer for the agency over­see­ing the Obama­care in­sur­ance ex­changes warns that the mar­ket­place “does not reas­on­ably meet … se­cur­ity re­quire­ments” and that “there is also no con­fid­ence that Per­son­al Iden­ti­fi­able In­form­a­tion (PII) will be pro­tec­ted.” Teresa Fry­er, the chief in­form­a­tion se­cur­ity of­ficer at the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vice, con­tin­ues: The fed­er­al mar­ket­place will likely “not be ready to se­curely sup­port the Af­ford­able Care Act … by Oc­to­ber 1, 2013.”

It plays right in­to the Re­pub­lic­an nar­rat­ive about Health­Care.gov: The ad­min­is­tra­tion knew the web­site would not be ready by the launch date but went ahead with it any­way. And the site may still not be ad­equately pro­tect­ing con­sumers’ in­form­a­tion.

But, in con­text, the draft memo be­comes much less ex­cit­ing.

On the Fri­day be­fore Christ­mas, Rep. Dar­rell Issa, the chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, re­leased a par­tial tran­script from an in­ter­view con­duc­ted by the pan­el’s staff with Fry­er. That par­tial tran­script, shared with ABC and CBS, sug­ges­ted that Fry­er warned the ad­min­is­tra­tion that there were two find­ings of ser­i­ous vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies in the sys­tem.

However, when Demo­crats on the Over­sight Com­mit­tee re­leased parts of the tran­script omit­ted from Issa’s ver­sion, Fry­er’s com­ments looked far less ex­plos­ive, and ABC up­dated its story to re­flect the change. It turns out that by Sept. 27, a few days after Fry­er raised her con­cerns about the se­cur­ity at launch, ex­tens­ive new se­cur­ity meas­ures were ad­ded.

As she told the com­mit­tee’s in­vest­ig­at­ors, “The ad­ded pro­tec­tions that we have put in­to place in ac­cord­ance with the risk de­cision memo “¦ are best prac­tices above and bey­ond what is usu­ally re­com­men­ded.” She went on to de­scribe her con­fid­ence in the three-level se­cur­ity sys­tem and to note that there have been “no suc­cess­ful breaches [or] se­cur­ity in­cid­ents.”

Which brings us back to the draft memo we ob­tained. We should note that it was just a draft, and was nev­er sent or re­viewed by more seni­or of­ficers in the chain of com­mand, and was writ­ten three days be­fore the mit­ig­a­tion strategies went in­to ef­fect. She later told Over­sight Com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­at­ors that her earli­er re­com­mend­a­tion against giv­ing the go-ahead to launch the site — the “au­thor­ity to op­er­ate,” as it’s called — did not take in­to ac­count the mit­ig­a­tion strategies laid out in the Sept. 27 Au­thor­ity to Op­er­ate memo.

The in­vest­ig­at­ors asked Tony Trenkle, then-CMS’ top in­form­a­tion ex­ec­ut­ive, this: “So as long as the mit­ig­a­tion strategy de­scribed in the [ATO] memo was car­ried out, you con­sidered that it was, it would be suf­fi­cient to mit­ig­ate the risks de­scribed in the memo?” He re­spon­ded, “Yes.”

She ad­ded that she was “sat­is­fied” with the cur­rent se­cur­ity test­ing, and that she did not ob­ject when an­oth­er CMS in­form­a­tion se­cur­ity of­ficer de­cided to move ahead with the launch. Again, she stated: “All sys­tems are sus­cept­ible to at­tacks. There have been no suc­cess­ful at­tempts.”

As the Los Angeles Times‘ Pulitzer Prize-win­ning busi­ness colum­nist Mi­chael Hiltzik noted, “Issa has ab­so­lutely no evid­ence” to sup­port his broad­er claims that the sys­tem’s deep vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies put all kinds of con­sumers’ gov­ern­ment data at risk, and that CMS moved ahead any­way to avoid em­bar­rass­ing the White House.

Of course, sleight of hand with opaque bur­eau­crat­ic doc­u­ments is noth­ing new for Issa, but the po­ten­tial to dis­suade Amer­ic­ans from ob­tain­ing health in­sur­ance through the fed­er­al ex­changes be­cause of trumped up se­cur­ity fears has pushed re­la­tions between the com­mit­tee chair and the ad­min­is­tra­tion to a new low. It’s one thing to say without evid­ence that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is cor­rupt, but it’s an­oth­er to tell Amer­ic­ans that their So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber is at risk when there’s noth­ing to sug­gest that’s true.

But per­haps we can head off an­oth­er round of this farce by put­ting out Fry­er’s memo be­fore Issa does — in its full con­text.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story misat­trib­uted Trenkle’s quote to Fry­er. It has been up­dated.

What We're Following See More »
ARE “OPEN TO NEGOTIATION”
Sens. Paul, Cruz, Johnson and Lee Oppose Senate Health Care Bill
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

The four Senators released a joint statement, saying in part, "There are provisions in this draft that repreesnt an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs."

Source:
UNKNOWN IF TRUMP WANTS 2024 GAMES IN L.A.
Trump Meets With International Olympic Committee Today
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump will meet with the International Olympic Committee Thursday amid a battle between Los Angeles and Paris for the right to host the 2024 games. The meeting at the White House will come roughly three months before members of the IOC vote on which of the two cities will welcome the Olympics during what could be the final year of Trump's presidency, should he win re-election. Trump has remained largely silent on whether he plans to fight for the U.S. to receive the games in 2024."

Source:
TRUMP SUGGESTED THERE WERE TAPES
No Comey Tapes
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon, "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."

Source:
DEVELOPING
Senate Healthcare Bill In Trouble?
8 hours ago
BREAKING
ALTERED, STOLE VOTER INFO
Russian Hacking More Extensive Than Previously Reported
8 hours ago
BREAKING

"The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers. ... Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign. ... The House Intelligence Committee plans to seek testimony this summer from Brad Parscale, the digital director of the Trump campaign."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login