Health

Democrats Seek Classified Briefing on HealthCare.gov Docs, Citing Security

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. // Cliff Owen/AP

Lawmakers continued to wrangle on Monday over how and whether to publicly release a collection of emails and reports that document the troubled building and disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov.

The ranking Democrats of seven House committees sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seeking a classified briefing on documents House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed from contractors that worked on the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace.

Issa has said the emails and progress reports show officials launched HealthCare.gov despite warnings about security vulnerabilities that may still exist in the site and that could endanger insurance seekers’ personal data.

Democrats argue that publicly releasing the documents could increase security vulnerabilities by giving hackers a roadmap to that information.

Their letter to Boehner and Pelosi quoted a letter from White House Counsel Kathryn Reummler stating:  “It is the view of cybersecurity experts from across the administration that these documents, if further disclosed, would provide information to potential hackers that increases the risk they could penetrate HealthCare.gov, the Federal Data Services Hub and other federal [information technology] systems.”

An Issa spokeswoman said the chairman appreciates that some of the subpoenaed documents could point out security vulnerabilities and he does not plan to release anything that could lead hackers into the system.

“We recognize the seriousness of the situation and are taking appropriate steps to secure the information we have obtained and consult with experts on sensitive technical information,” she said. “We only wish the administration had taken security concerns this seriously before launching its website.”

Republican and Democratic members of the oversight committee were previously given redacted copies of the disputed documents and allowed to review unredacted copies but not keep them. Issa obtained unredacted copies of the documents by subpoenaing the contractors.

HealthCare.gov performed disastrously when it first launched, preventing the majority of insurance seekers from enrolling in plans through the site. The site gradually improved through November but only enrolled 137,000 people in insurance plans during its first two months. An additional 227,000 people enrolled in plans through state-run marketplaces.

The government hopes to enroll 7 million people in insurance plans through state and federal marketplaces by the end of March. Falling significantly short of that number could increase the level of risk in insurance pools, making premiums unsustainably expensive.

Officials say the site has been operating at an acceptable level with error rates lower than 1 percent and pages responding to customer clicks in less than 1 second since the administration's self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline. During a massive repair process, officials instituted a new management structure, added servers, fixed more than 400 computer code errors and installed a queuing system to keep the site from becoming overburdened by high traffic.

Threatwatch Alert

Cyber espionage / Insider attack / Unauthorized use of user privileges

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// October 24
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