Obamacare reform tops House GOP's post-holiday agenda

CBS

The White House and its supporters are working hard to focus on the positive now that the Obamacare marketplaces are open for business, but conservatives aren’t giving up the narrative over the controversial law that quickly.

Republicans in the House, who’ve taken heat for their fruitless efforts to repeal the sweeping health law, return to Washington next week to take up efforts at reforming the Affordable Care Act. Conservative activists, meanwhile, launched new attacks this week against vulnerable Democrats for their support for Obamacare.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Thursday sent a memo to House Republicans, informing them he’s scheduling a vote next week on the subject of Obamacare data breaches and security.

A spokesman from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told CBS News that the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information are a top priority as the Obamacare marketplaces open and that Healthcare.gov is subject to strict security standards. Security testing is conducted on an ongoing basis, and the operational components of Healthcare.gov are all compliant with standards created by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST).

"To date, there have been no successful security attacks on Healthcare.gov and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information from the site," the spokesman said. 

Still, given that millions of Americans will have access to health insurance this year because of Obamacare -- and their health information and other personally identifiable information will subsequently be recorded online -- data security is a growing concern. Health information technology (IT) experts have expressed concern that current federal requirements don’t go far enough to protect that data-- for instance the HITECH Act doesn't require health care providers to protect patient information by encrypting it. And as Cantor noted in his memo, not all health data security breaches must be reported to the affected individuals.

“If a breach occurs, it shouldn't be up to some bureaucrat to decide when or even whether to inform an individual that their personal information has been accessed,” Cantor wrote. “It is my intent to schedule legislation on this topic when we return next week. And in the coming weeks, we will continue to address other areas where greater transparency is demanded, including the disclosure of reliable and complete enrollment data.”

Cantor notes that a few Republicans have introduced legislation to bolster security standards. For instance, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., has introduced the Federal Exchange Data Breach Notification Act of 2013, which would require the federal government to notify those whose personal information has been compromised on the federal Obamacare marketplace (facilitated by Healthcare.gov).

“Until Obamacare can be fully repealed, we must do what we can to protect Americans from this disastrous and dangerous law,” Black said in a statement last month.

Republicans appear ready this year to focus on Obamacare’s shortcomings, and ways to patch over them, rather than make more attempts to repeal the law. A month ago, when asked whether the House would vote on an Obamacare alternative in 2014, all House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had to say was, “We’ll see.” Later in the month, Boehner made clear he wasn’t interested anymore in listening to conservative groups that convinced the GOP to shut down the government over Obamacare. “They’ve lost all credibility,” he said, getting clearly angry.

Outside groups opposed to Obamacare, however, are still waging an aggressive campaign against the law that conservatives hope will pay off in November’s midterm elections.

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, are launching a multimillion dollar ad campaign this week attacking three Democratic senators up for re-election -- Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire -- for their support of the health care law. The ads will run in major media markets for the next three weeks. All three ads slam the senators for repeating what fact-checking site Politifact dubbed “lie of the year” -- the promise that anyone who likes their health care can keep it.

Keeping the public skeptical about Obamacare may not be too difficult -- a Gallup poll released Thursday showed that most uninsured Americans who have visited an Obamacare website have had a negative experience. The poll, based on interviews conducted Dec. 1-29, showed that 59 percent of those Americans had  a negative experience while 39 percent had a positive one. Gallup surveyed more than 1,500 uninsured Americans, including about 450 who had visited an Obamacare website. For results based on those who had visited an Obamacare site, the poll had a six-point margin of error.

Meanwhile, the first two days of the new Obamacare marketplaces brought mixed results across the country, the Associate Press reported. For instance, Vermont’s largest hospital saw nearly two dozen patients with new health insurance coverage, but more than half of those patients didn’t have insurance cards. Many government agencies and insurers are still processing applications from Obamacare enrollees.

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