Published December 20, 2015
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to impose new security requirements on President Barack Obama's health care law as Republicans maintained an election-year focus on the contentious program and its troubled rollout.
The vote Friday was 291-122 for the measure that Republicans said would address potential data breaches, though they offered no examples in which personal data had been compromised through the government website. There were 67 Democrats who joined with Republicans to back the measure.
The bill was the first of several targeting "Obamacare" this year in the GOP-led House. Republicans see the law's woes as paying political dividends in November's midterm contests and vow to be relentless in highlighting what they consider a disastrous law.
The administration opposes the bill, which stands no chance in the Democratic-led Senate.
Republicans insisted the legislation was necessary to address potential problems, pointing to last year's security breach at Target Corp. The nation's second-largest retailer said Friday that personal information connected to about 70 million customers through credit and debit card accounts had been stolen in a pre-Christmas data breach.
"What if Target had not bothered to tell anyone?" asked Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who argued that the Health and Human Services Department's promise to notify Americans of security breaches needed the force of law.
The measure would require the secretary of health and human services to notify an individual within two business days of any security breach involving personal data provided to the government during health care enrollment.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke of "credible and documented fear" of the health care website.
Democrats said there had been no security breaches at the health care website and the bill was simply a Republican effort to scare Americans from signing up for coverage with misinformation.
"They are trying to put fear into the public," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Rep. Diane DeGette, D-Colo., described the legislation as a "solution in search of a problem."
In fact, there was at least one breach last year. A North Carolina man tried to log on to the website and got a South Carolina man's personal information. The administration had to scramble to make a software fix.
Republicans used debate on the bill to assail the health care law, using oft-repeated criticism such as "train wreck" and disaster.
The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans who lack insurance, to lower health care costs, to increase access to preventive services and to eliminate some of the pre-existing condition requirements that insurance companies have used to deny coverage. The health care website HealthCare.gov got off to a calamitous start on Oct. 1, followed quickly by widespread reports of canceled policies and higher premiums.
To date, more than 2 million Americans have signed up for coverage through the federal marketplace covering 36 states and exchanges in 14 states. At the same time, at least 4.7 million people who buy their own insurance were told their policies would no longer be offered this year because they failed to meet the standards of the law.
Republicans who steadfastly opposed the law seized on Obama's proclamation -- repeated by many Democrats -- that if you like your health care, you can keep it, using the law as a political cudgel. The House voted more than 40 times last year to repeal, replace or undo parts of the law.
The administration, in objecting to the measure, said it already has implemented safeguards to secure personal information and notify consumers if a breach occurs.
"When consumers fill out their online marketplace applications, they can trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards," the administration said in a statement Thursday.
The House had planned to vote on another bill that would require the administration to report weekly on the number of visits to the government health care website, the number of Americans who applied and the number of enrollees by ZIP code, as well as other statistics. The administration has opposed this measure, saying it has been providing information on enrollments, and the added requirements would force it to hire new staff.