The Bright Spot in Obamacare’s Tech Woes

A rocky start: Obamacare.
National Journal
Sam Baker
Add to Briefcase
Sam Baker
Oct. 24, 2013, 10:58 a.m.

For all the prob­lems with Health­, one very big, very im­port­ant piece of Obama­care tech­no­logy seems to be work­ing well.

It’s called the “data ser­vices hub” — and it’s not nearly as bor­ing as it sounds. When the law’s crit­ics raise fears of se­cur­ity breaches, they’re talk­ing about the data hub. The hub trans­mits massive amounts of in­form­a­tion about people seek­ing health in­sur­ance, draw­ing from sev­er­al fed­er­al agen­cies and com­mu­nic­at­ing with every state’s in­sur­ance mar­ket­place.

It was ini­tially seen as one of the most likely places for prob­lems to arise in the en­roll­ment pro­cess.

So far, though, the re­views are pos­it­ive.

“It’s work­ing well for us,” said Chris Clark, the tech­no­logy pro­gram man­ager for Ken­tucky’s in­sur­ance ex­change.

The data hub is a massive IT op­er­a­tion that pulls in­form­a­tion from myri­ad fed­er­al data­bases, in­clud­ing re­cords from the IRS, the So­cial Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment.

When people ap­ply for in­sur­ance through an ex­change — wheth­er it’s the fed­er­ally run portal at Health­ or one of the 14 state-run ex­changes — the data hub is the tool for veri­fy­ing their iden­tity. It’s sup­posed to pull vari­ous re­cords to veri­fy that ap­plic­ants are who they say they are, and also to veri­fy their in­come and em­ploy­ment in­form­a­tion.

Clark said 92 per­cent of the ap­plic­ants through Ken­tucky’s ex­change have been suc­cess­fully veri­fied through the data hub.

“We’re over­joyed with that 92 per­cent. I don’t know that we thought it would be that high of a suc­cess rate,” he said.

Sev­er­al oth­er health care ana­lysts also said the data hub seems to be work­ing well so far, not­ing that Health­ has been able to veri­fy their iden­tit­ies — and re­ject in­ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion — when they have tried to use the site.

A suc­cess­ful data hub is crit­ic­al to the en­roll­ment push for the Af­ford­able Care Act. And it was a prime tar­get for cri­ti­cism be­fore the en­roll­ment win­dow opened on Oct. 1.

“I have grave con­cerns about the abil­ity to es­tab­lish suf­fi­cient se­cur­ity in this massive, un­pre­ced­en­ted net­work by Oct. 1.”¦ I fear that our gov­ern­ment is about to em­bark on an over­whelm­ing task that will at best carry an un­fathom­able price tag and at worst place a tar­get on every Amer­ic­an who enters the ex­change,” Rep. Pat Mee­han, R-Pa., said this sum­mer at an Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee hear­ing about the data hub.

Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress have raised con­cerns about the data hub and painted it as a mag­net for fraud, im­ply­ing that a soph­ist­ic­ated hack­er could gain ac­cess to reams of per­son­al health care in­form­a­tion.

Many of their fears are un­foun­ded: The data hub doesn’t store any in­form­a­tion. It’s simply a con­duit. And it doesn’t col­lect per­son­al health care re­cords.

Still, the hub isn’t per­fect. And so few people have been able to use the ex­changes that big­ger is­sues could emerge down the line, once the sys­tem grows.

An­drew Slavitt, a vice pres­id­ent at Optum, the con­tract­or that built the data hub, ac­know­ledged some prob­lems dur­ing a House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee hear­ing Thursday.

But he said the prob­lems haven’t been severe — un­like those that have pre­ven­ted users from ac­cess­ing the fed­er­al mar­ket­place at Health­

“When we have en­countered oc­ca­sion­al bugs in the Data Ser­vices Hub, they have been dis­crete is­sues and we have promptly cor­rec­ted them,” he said in pre­pared testi­mony. “While fu­ture is­sues could arise and busi­ness re­quire­ments could change, to my know­ledge, the Data Ser­vices Hub con­tin­ues to op­er­ate well.”

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