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House passes Obamacare security-notification law; 67 Democrats join GOP majority

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The House passed a bill Friday that requires the federal government to notify consumers within two days if their personal data has been breached on online-based insurance markets tied to the new health care law.

Roughly one third of voting Democrats joined the Republican majority in passing the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act, 291 votes to 122, even though the Obama administration said legislation is unnecessary because notification rules are in place.

Republicans said the measure is common sense.

"All it says is the administration has to let victims of identity theft or information theft to be notified. That's it," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said.

The Democrat-run Senate is unlikely to take up the bill after it ignored dozens of other GOP-led measures that attempted to dismantle or change the Affordable Care Act, even though 67 House Democrats voted for the legislation.

No Republicans voted against the measure, and the office of the House majority whip said it was the highest Democratic vote tally so far on any Obamacare-related bill sponsored by the law's opponents.

The vote marked the GOP's first legislative strike against Obamacare in the new year. House leaders plan to hold a vote next week on a bill that would require the Obama administration to publish enrollment data each week — and not monthly as it does now — in a sign that GOP leaders are shifting their anti-Obamacare agenda toward stricter oversight of the law in place of votes to repeal it.

Republican leaders said the administration cannot be trusted to secure Obamacare's Web system after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal portal set up to connect residents of 36 states with health coverage. They also cited an administration official's concerns that the system had not been fully tested prior to its Oct. 1 launch.

Americans are particularly sensitive to data breaches in an increasingly cyber-based world, they added, citing the millions of Target stores customers who had to monitor their bank accounts after their credit card numbers were swept up by hackers.

"What if Target had not bothered to tell anyone? ... The damage would certainly be worse," said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and the bill's sponsor.

The White House said Thursday it opposes the bill, because it imposes "unrealistic" and "costly" burdens on the administration. However, it did not issue an explicit veto threat against the measure.

The federal government has information-technology standards in place that require it to notify people as quickly as possible if their personally-identifiable information has been compromised, according to the administration's Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats said it would be difficult for the Department of Health and Human Services to notify consumers of breaches on the 15 health exchanges run by the states without the federal government's help.

Plus, they said, no one has been able to hack HealthCare.gov, so Republicans appear to be using the bill to scare people away from Mr. Obama's law.

"They're addressing a reality that's not there," said Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat.

Democrats said the GOP majority needs to focus on pressing issues of the day, rather than shut things down.

"Heck, they're even shutting down bridges in New Jersey," Rep. Joe Crowley, New York Democrat, said, a dig at revelations that staff members for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, closed lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retaliation.

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