House Hearing to Focus on Security in the Obamacare Exchange

Issa gets his first opportunity to publicly interrogate HHS since the tumultuous launch of HealthCare.gov.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) talk to reporters after the House passed the STEM Jobs Act November 30, 2012.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Nov. 12, 2013, 12:40 p.m.

Wed­nes­day’s House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee hear­ing with Obama’s tech gurus is the cul­min­a­tion of a month­long in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to what went wrong in the rol­lout of Health­Care.gov.

One month ago, com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if., began is­su­ing a series of re­quests to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment for more in­form­a­tion about the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care.

His first let­ter, sent to HHS Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us on Oct. 10, called the Af­ford­able Care Act’s in­di­vidu­al man­date — a $95 or 1-per­cent-of-in­come pen­alty in 2014 — un­fair to con­sumers if they were barred from sign­ing up for cov­er­age due to Health­Care.gov‘s mal­func­tions. Issa re­ques­ted en­roll­ment data — which is not yet pub­lic, al­though two re­ports Monday sug­gest it could be few­er than 100,000 — and de­tailed in­form­a­tion about the depth of tech­nic­al trouble plaguing the fed­er­al ex­change site and the test­ing that was done in ad­vance of the Oct. 1 launch.

Some of Issa’s ques­tions have since been answered. Se­beli­us test­i­fied to the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee on Oct. 30 that she was aware Health­Care.gov had not been thor­oughly tested be­fore launch, but did not an­ti­cip­ate the level of prob­lems the web­site has en­countered. And a Sept. 26 memo signed by Mar­ilyn Taven­ner, ad­min­is­trat­or of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices — the HHS agency re­spons­ible for the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the fed­er­al ex­change — in­dic­ated that she was aware of high se­cur­ity risks in the sys­tem.

That sign-off should have come from Tony Trenkle, the CMS tech­no­logy ex­ec­ut­ive in charge of Health­Care.gov‘s se­cur­ity, who an­nounced his resig­na­tion last week. Moreover, Se­beli­us test­i­fied that she was not made aware of Taven­ner’s memo. And on Nov. 1, Henry Chao, the pro­ject man­ager for the fed­er­al health in­sur­ance mar­ket­place, told Issa’s com­mit­tee he had not seen an earli­er se­cur­ity memo — au­thored by Trenkle on Sept. 3 — that de­scribed high se­cur­ity risks. Chao is ex­pec­ted to ap­pear at Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing.

In the weeks since his first let­ter, Issa has sub­poenaed mul­tiple HHS of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the sec­ret­ary her­self, and began re­leas­ing in­tern­al memos — called “War Room Notes” — that chron­icle the thought pro­cess of the ad­min­is­tra­tion as they dis­covered sys­tem glitches and took meas­ures to fix them.

Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing will give Issa the op­por­tun­ity to an­swer linger­ing ques­tions about the site’s poor design and how the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­com­plish­ing fixes — such as the faulty re­gis­tra­tion data sent to in­sur­ance com­pan­ies.

But the last time the Over­sight Com­mit­tee met about Obama­care, the hear­ing fo­cused on old griev­ances. Wit­ness Sarah Hall In­gram, former head of the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice di­vi­sion for tax-ex­empt or­gan­iz­a­tions, watched as the Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats bantered about the singling out of or­gan­iz­a­tions based on ideo­logy. When they fi­nally did turn to her, she was asked wheth­er she was a witch.

Issa has also brought on a wave of cri­ti­cism for re­quir­ing the pres­ence of Todd Park, the White House’s chief tech­no­logy of­ficer, whom he sub­poenaed last week after Park said he would testi­fy in Decem­ber once Health­Care.gov was fixed. Park’s sup­port­ers cre­ated “Let Todd Work,” a cam­paign to keep Park fo­cused on fix­ing Health­Care.gov. Demo­crats on the Over­sight Com­mit­tee asked Issa to with­draw his sub­poena, but the chair­man wrote in his sub­poena that Park’s ap­pear­ance is ne­ces­sary to identi­fy what went wrong and how he will ad­dress se­cur­ity vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies in the site.

Re­gard­less of what the com­mit­tee un­cov­ers, CMS spokes­wo­man Ju­lie Ba­taille has said on daily press calls about the web­site’s re­pairs that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has no in­ten­tion of ex­tend­ing the open-en­roll­ment peri­od or delay the in­di­vidu­al man­date.

“By the end of Novem­ber, the vast ma­jor­ity of users will be able to go smoothly through the pro­cess,” Ba­taille said on Nov. 7.

HHS, CMS, and White House of­fi­cials did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about the web­site’s se­cur­ity Tues­day af­ter­noon.

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