McConnell Urges Feds To Delay Open Enrollment of ACA’s Exchanges
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday urged the Obama administration to delay the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges, citing potential security issues with a data hub being developed to connect federal agencies with state-operated exchanges, Reuters reports (Begley, Reuters, 8/12).
The hub is meant to verify exchange applicants' income information with the IRS and then transmit verifications back to the marketplace. It also aims to relay information between the exchanges and other federal agencies, such as Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security (California Healthline, 8/7).
Administration officials in recent weeks have insisted that the development of the hub and data security tests are on schedule and that the data hub will be ready by Oct. 1 (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/12).
In a letter sent Monday to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, McConnell said consumers should not be forced into the exchanges without assurances that personal and financial data will be safe from "hackers and cyber criminals" (Reuters, 8/12).
McConnell cited a recent report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General, which concluded that CMS still has "several critical tasks" to complete ahead of the Oct. 1 launch of the data hub (Bunis, CQ HealthBeat, 8/12). The report also noted that the agency missed several self-imposed deadlines for testing the security of the technology and data systems that will be used by the state and federal insurance exchanges.
As a result of the delays, CMS' chief information officer is expected to certify the security of the hub on Sept. 30, one day before the exchanges open for enrollment (Reuters, 8/12). In addition, the HHS OIG report said certain other tasks still need to be completed, including:
- The final independent testing of the data hub's security controls;
- Addressing security risks identified during testing; and
- Obtaining security authorization for the hub before the ACA's health insurance exchanges are launched (CQ HealthBeat, 8/12).
In his letter to Tavenner, McConnell warned, "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" (Lesniewski, "WGDB," Roll Call, 8/12).
Sen. Blunt Pushes HHS for Information on Exchange Premium Rates
In related news, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) -- in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday -- criticized her decision to wait until September to release information on premium rates for health insurance plans that will be offered on the 34 federally run exchanges, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/12).
During a teleconference with the media last week, Sebelius criticized opponents of the ACA for their efforts to discourage enrollment in the new marketplaces by releasing "factually incorrect" information. She said some state officials have falsely suggested that insurance rates will rise for consumers through the exchanges.
Sebelius said that HHS would "clarify once and for all what these rates are," by releasing comprehensive data by September. However, an HHS official -- who spoke during the call, but requested that he or she not to be identified -- clarified Sebelius' statement, saying that full premium information would be ready by Oct. 1, not Sept. 1. The official added that the rates are being determined on a case-by-case basis with each insurer (California Healthline, 8/7).
In his letter to Sebelius, Blunt also sought more information on HHS' negotiations on rates with insurers and "any incentives HHS used to motivate insurers to change their rates." He wrote, "These negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors, without assurances that a fair process has been observed or that the negotiations will result in better insurance products for consumers" (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/12).
Rubio Continues To Promote Plan To Defund ACA
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) this week is scheduled to tour several cities across his home state to promote a GOP-sponsored plan that would block funding for the ACA through the annual budget process, the Washington Times reports (Howell, Washington Times, 8/12).
Under the plan -- spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) -- Republicans are seeking to block any government funding resolution that includes money for further implementation of the ACA. A similar plan in the House already has gained the support of 66 members.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has warned his leadership team that the plan -- which would involve facilitating a federal government shutdown -- poses political dangers that could threaten the GOP's future majority in the House. Several GOP governors have also criticized the plan, warning that a government shutdown would be disastrous for the Republican Party, particularly if the party is seen as halting government activity (California Healthline, 8/1).
Rubio is expected to make stops in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Panama City and Pensacola to promote and discuss the plan with local constituents (Washington Times, 8/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.