It isn't only a question of privacy. But how many computer-savvy people who don't trust the government when they say an insurance exchange website is secure will refuse to buy insurance until someone they trust tells them their information won't end up in the hands of hackers?
Simply put, this issue has the ability to destroy Obamacare. If there aren't enough healthy people who sign up to offset the cost of sick people paying the same rates, premiums will rise out of sight - and beyond the ability of most Americans to pay even with a subsidy.
Reuters recently reported that security testing for Obamacare is months behind schedule. And Michael Astrue, former HHS general counsel and Social Security commissioner, has warned in THE WEEKLY STANDARD that "unless delayed and fixed" the Obamacare exchanges will "inflict on the public the most widespread violation of the Privacy Act in our history."
Today, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to a top official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for the exchanges to be delayed until the government can guarantee that the privacy of Americans will be protected.
"While I believe we ought to repeal this law and replace it with commonsense reforms that lower cost, Americans ought to be assured, at an absolute minimum, that their personal and financial data will be safe from data thieves," writes McConnell. "I am asking you to delay opening the exchanges until the Inspector General can guarantee the security of the exchanges."
Given that the exchanges can be opened even if the security of the sites isn't up to snuff, there is plenty of reason to distrust the government on this issue.
The political pressures to open the exchanges on October 1 as scheduled may yet be the law's downfall. Here's part of McConnell's letter:
As you know, I oppose Obamacare and support its full repeal. Yet in recent months, even some of the Administration's closest allies have raised alarms about the potential implementation "train wreck" to come. While I believe we ought to repeal this law and replace it with commonsense reforms that lower cost, Americans ought to be assured, at an absolute minimum, that their personal and financial data will be safe from data thieves.
HHS' recent track record does not inspire much confidence. Last week, the Office of the Inspector General reported that the CMS has missed multiple deadlines for testing, reporting, and remediating data security risks in the Federal Data Services Hub. In fact, HHS does not expect a final Security Control Assessment (SCA) report from an independent testing organization until 10 days before the Hub is scheduled to begin operations, hardly enough time to fix any problems that may be identified. Furthermore, the current schedule calls for CMS's Chief Information Officer (CIO) to certify the Security Authorization Decision on September 30, 2013, the day before exchanges open.
Adding to these concerns are reports that 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.
Is it possible that there will be so many problems with the rollout that Obama will throw in the towel, delay the individual mandate for a year while problems with the exchanges get fixed? Don't bet on it. Any acknowledgment of serious problems with the exchanges that would necessitate delay would be fatal to people's confidence in the law. The administration is counting on enthusiasm for the subsidies to bail them out. It's a long shot as it is, but it would be made impossible if there was a delay.
That's why Obama is so insistent on keeping to the schedule. Come hell or high water - or holes in website security - Obamacare will go forward as scheduled.