Rather than engage in empty threats to shut down the government as some of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Republican colleagues are, the Senate minority leader is advancing a strong argument for Obamacare delay aimed at enticing Democrats to join in the effort.
McConnell’s office explains in an e-mail that “Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General’s report last week that said CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has missed multiple deadlines for testing and reporting data security risks in connection with signing up for insurance on the government’s health care exchanges. The Inspector General said that HHS doesn’t expect a final security assessment report from an independent testing organization until 10 days before the Federal Data Services Hub is scheduled to open, which is hardly enough time to fix any security problems that may be identified.” McConnell therefore has contacted the CMS administrator, writing in part:
CMS has signed a $1.2 billion contract with a company to receive, sort, and evaluate applications for financial assistance in the exchanges that include personal, sensitive data. According to published reports, this particular company “has little experience with the Department of Health Human Services or the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, where individuals and small businesses are supposed to be able to shop for insurance.” And just last year, it was disclosed that more than 120,000 enrollees in the federal Thrift Savings Plan had their personal information, including Social Security numbers, stolen from your contractor’s computers in 2011.
He asks that the exchanges be delayed ”until the Inspector General can guarantee the security of the exchanges” and for the chief information officer to certify the system’s readiness. He also asks if the contractor “will protect taxpayer information in the exchange more carefully than it protected the data of federal employees in the Thrift Savings Plan.”
He concludes that “Americans should not be forced into the exchanges, and certainly not without these assurances. If you rush to go forward without adequate safeguards in place, any theft of personal information from constituents will be the result of your rush to implement a law to meet the agency’s political needs and not the operational needs of the people it is supposed to serve.”
Given the justifiable furor over the Internal Revenue Service scandal and the less-reasoned backlash over the National Security Agency surveillance programs, McConnell has hit a sweet spot in the Obamacare argument. It is one thing for Democrats to give the back of the hand to concerns from Republican lawmakers and the majority of Americans who disfavor Obamacare because it depresses job creation and sends premium costs soaring, but quite another to give the entire country, including their own constituents (in particular those who don’t have insurance through their employer and are the prime beneficiaries of subsidized insurance), reason to freak out.
McConnell would do well to keep pushing this debate. If nothing else, he’ll be seen as a prophet when the exchanges go haywire, as many expect they will. Moreover, it returns the GOP to the high ground rather than frittering away their advantage in the debate over the unpopular legislation by making the president seem like the grown-up.