House Hearing to Focus on Security in the Obamacare Exchange

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

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
Add to Briefcase
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 Health­

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 Health­‘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 Health­ 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 Health­‘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 Health­ was fixed. Park’s sup­port­ers cre­ated “Let Todd Work,” a cam­paign to keep Park fo­cused on fix­ing Health­ 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.

What We're Following See More »
Bill Murray Crashes White House Briefing Room
10 hours ago

In town to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center, Bill Murray casually strolled into the White House Briefing Room this afternoon. A spokesman said he was at the executive mansion for a chat with President Obama, his fellow Chicagoan.

Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
13 hours ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Trump Draws Laughs, Boos at Al Smith Dinner
1 days ago

After a lighthearted beginning, Donald Trump's appearance at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York "took a tough turn as the crowd repeatedly booed the GOP nominee for his sharp-edged jokes about his rival Hillary Clinton."

McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
1 days ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
1 days ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.


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.