House Republicans on Thursday once again tried to shine a bright light on Obamacare’s problems and possible security flaws, as Obama administration officials admitted they were wrong about the HealthCare.gov website’s readiness but said the warning signs weren’t strong enough to convince them to delay the rollout.
The GOP majority’s full-court press featured a trio of simultaneous committee hearings on the new national health care law, even as the full House voted 259-154 to approve a bill that would require the White House to provide detailed reports on enrollment on a weekly, and not monthly, basis.
“The administration hasn’t provided a clear picture of where enrollment stands, what challenges remain with the function and security of its website, and how much addressing those issues will cost taxpayers,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
While more than 30 Democrats supported the transparency bill, most in the minority party said Republicans were only trying to hinder the Obama administration with new burdens as it struggles to implement the law. Democrats said Republicans were ignoring the safety record and improvements that have been made to HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, since its rocky introduction in October.
Many critics of President Obama’s reforms have shifted away from repeal efforts, now that millions of Americans have acquired Medicaid benefits or signed up for private health plans on state-based health exchanges. Instead, they’ve pushed for stricter oversight of the law and begun highlighting its frailties.
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, accused the administration of ignoring the best practices and standards of the private software industry, as well as the pre-launch warnings that HealthCare.gov might be vulnerable to hackers. Critics say the large amounts of personal data users must supply for the online exchange sign-ups make the security problems ever more serious.
Teresa Fryer, chief information security officer for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified she drafted, but never sent, a mid-September memo that warned of potential security flaws within HealthCare.gov, based on testing.
Ultimately, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner ruled the site was safe enough to launch the federal exchange on Oct. 1 as planned.
Republicans said they did not understand why Ms. Fryer’s concerns about the federal website were not given more weight, particularly since HealthCare.gov turned into a technical disaster in October and November.
“You wrote that it wasn’t ready for prime-time rollout for security, right?” Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican, asked Ms. Fryer.
Ms. Fryer said she never finished the September memo and that the system is secure now.
“The protections that we have put in place have successfully prevented attacks,” she said.
Also on Thursday, House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee pressed Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumers Information and Insurance Oversight, to explain why the administration said the exchange would be ready in October, only to see it hobbled by myriad glitches until a “tech surge” added capacity and patched up software in time for a December enrollment push.
“Clearly the problems we encountered in October were far worse than I or any of us anticipated,” Mr. Cohen told lawmakers. “Simply put, the system did not work nearly as well as it should have or that we expected that it would.”
Committee members said someone should have been fired for the early stumbles and said the administration cannot be trusted moving forward.