- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2013

The federal Obamacare website has been blasted for technical problems, but Republicans say an even bigger problem may be lurking inside the computer system — weak protections of private information.

Late Monday, the Obama administration, in an acknowledgment of the website’s problems, officially announced a six-week grace period for signing up for insurance, saying that those who have coverage by April 1 won’t have to pay the Obamacare tax penalty. The previous deadline was Feb. 15.

SEE ALSO: White House comes clean: Everyone won’t keep health plan under Obamacare

The White House signaled last week that it would need to make some allowances because of the problems with the federal website, which it now says won’t be fixed until the end of November.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said Monday that the “incompetent” launch of healthcare.gov gives her little confidence that the system can protect Social Security numbers and other personal data turned over by those seeking to sign up for Obamacare.

“I have been warning about these problems from the beginning and, after watching this embarrassing rollout, am more concerned now than ever about the potential for cyberthreats and identity theft in Obamacare,” she said.

Ms. Black is a member of the Ways and Means Committee that is set to question Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), during an oversight hearing Tuesday about the program’s flawed rollout.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Health Care Reform

The hearing is likely to focus on what the administration knew about the website’s faulty performance in the run-up to its Oct. 1 launch.

But Republican lawmakers also worry that websites tied to the Affordable Care Act amount to a “hacker’s dream.”

“This White House has repeatedly misled the American people about every stage of the ACA rollout, so why would we believe them when they assure us our personal information is protected?” said Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on health. “I’m going to continue to demand truthful answers until we get them.”

Troubles with healthcare.gov continued Sunday with a network outage that hampered enrollments until the hosting company, Verizon Terremark, got its systems back online by Monday morning.

But the problems have forced the administration to tweak how it is enforcing the law.

In guidance issued late Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services said it wanted to make sure people could apply for insurance up until the end of March and still be in compliance. The department previously said that Americans would need to apply by Feb. 15 so they would be enrolled as of March 1.

“HHS has determined that it would be unfair to require individuals in this situation to make a payment,” the department said. “Accordingly, HHS is exercising its authority to establish an additional hardship exemption in order to provide relief for individuals in this situation.”

Despite all the hiccups, administration officials said cybersecurity issues have not been among the site’s well-documented problems.

“I’m not aware of any,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said on a conference call with reporters.

Story Continues →