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Barrasso: Time for Senate to Pass Obamacare Website Security Bill

January 14, 2014

Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) called on Senate Democrats and President Obama to support legislation that he and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) introduced to help protect Americans’ private health information. The Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act, which already passed the House of Representatives, requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to notify Americans within two business days if their personal information has been stolen due to a breach of security on the Obamacare insurance exchanges.

Excerpts of his remarks:

“Mr. President, it's no secret that every Republican in this chamber, every Senator on this side of the aisle voted against the President's health care law.

“We said it would do great harm to the American people. We're finding out that that's true.

“It's also no secret that every Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of the health care law. It was partisan, it was a bad idea, and it has failed the country in many ways.

“People know about the health care website, but the website, of course it was the most spectacular, the most public failure but it was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Under the iceberg, people are being hit with higher premiums, canceled coverage—5 million people lost their coverage around the country. People aren't able to keep the doctor that they had and liked in spite of the President's promise that if you like your doctor, you could keep your doctor.

“There are concerns about higher co-pays and higher deductibles. But also fraud and identity theft is an issue that is plaguing all of America and the health care website is really a spot where I believe we're going to see more problems in that area.

“Americans know that fraud and identity theft are big concerns. It's been clear from the start that the health care exchange was vulnerable to con artists, to hackers and actually information went out from the government saying, be careful with your information because of the concerns of con artists and hackers.

“So that’s a problem and it's something that I think Washington and this body needs to take seriously.

“Now, whenever President Obama talks about the health care law, he says, if Republicans have good ideas, please bring them forward, share them. And then he says he will support them.

“Well, Republicans have offered a lot of ideas on how to give the American people the health care reform that the wanted all along.

“We passed bills in the House of Representatives. We've tried to bring up bills here in the Senate. Democrats won't even allow us to vote on those bills in the Senate.

“You know, as a doctor, I could tell you what people were looking for with health care reform. They wanted access to quality, affordable health care, the care they need from a doctor that they choose at lower costs.

“They didn't get that with the health care law that the President and the Democrats shoved down the throats of the American people.

“And every time the majority leader at that desk blocks reform, I believe he's making things worse for millions of Americans. So we're trying again to take the President at his word and that he will support good Republican ideas.

Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act

“So Senator Johanns of Nebraska and I have introduced a commonsense bill that will help protect Americans who use the government insurance exchange.

“Our bill, called the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act, well, it requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to notify Americans within two business days if their personal information has been stolen due to security breaches on the exchanges.

“Not saying it's going to happen, but it sure could happen, and if it does, people need to be informed.

“Now, the House passed a version of this bill just last Friday and they did it, it was clearly a bipartisan bill. 67 Democrats joined Republicans to support this good idea.

“Now I believe it's our turn here in the Senate. You know, there shouldn't be anything controversial about this at all. This should be the kind of a bill that we can just pass by unanimous consent.

“But after forcing so many Americans to buy insurance through this program, I believe it's the government's responsibility to safeguard Americans' private information.

“You know, even Senators who voted for the President's health care law should agree with this.

“That should be the minimum that we require from Washington—keep Americans' private information private. Then if government fails to keep that information safe, we should have to admit it and tell people what happened.

“So all this bill says—it's a single page—Americans are concerned about their safety on-line, about having their identity stolen and this bill would give people at least the reassurance that they would be informed that if there are issues with their identity theft, that they would know about it.

“Well, look at what just happened to the Target stores. It now looks like 70 million people had their personal data compromised.

“Now, they ran a full—Target ran a full-page ad, took out in ‘The Washington Post,’ talking about what happened with their 70 million customers. They apologized for it.

“The same ad that ran here in the ‘The Washington Post’ ran in ‘The New York Times,’ the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ other papers around the country.

“Target told people about the security breach so they can take appropriate steps and watch for signs of identity theft. I think Target's also said they would do free credit ratings for a year, made a number of concerns the American people have, addressed those concerns and said, this is how we would take care of it.

“All the bill that we are offering today says, Mr. President, is that something happens like happened here and happens on the government's health exchange website, that Washington should do the same thing—should tell people that someone has gotten access to their personal information so people can protect themselves.

“The health care law was completely inadequate in how it dealt with personal security issues. The website's been a debacle, we know that. It's a hacker's dream.

“But even before the website was launched last March, it has been a mess.

“CBS news reported that deadlines for the site's final security plans were delayed three times over the summer, so we saw that problem. Final end-to-end security tests were never finished before the website was launched.

“In November, after the website was launched, four experts testified before the House about website problems. They were asked, ‘would any of you advise an American citizen to use this website as the security systems now exist?’

“Not one of them—not one of the four said that they would. None.

“Well, by December, one of those same industry experts said that the situation was even worse. The so-called fixes caused new security patterns and problems.

“Remember, that's after the White House was claiming that it had fixed the website. What they had fixed was just the tip of the iceberg and these problems under the tip continue today.

“So the House passed a bill on Friday overwhelming, bipartisan majority. President still says he opposes it. But why, why would the President oppose this bill? Why would he oppose being honest with the American people and helping them protect themselves from identity theft?

“President Obama has dug in his heels so deep on his health care law that he won't even consider good bipartisan ideas that will help the American people.

“Senator Johanns and I are going to continue to push for a vote and to call on the President to support this bill. The President needs to keep his promise to support good Republican ideas and to protect the American people from identity theft.

“The American people see what they're getting in their mail. Cancellation notices. They see what happens when they go to the website: higher premiums, sticker shock and now this threat of ongoing security concerns especially in light of what's happening elsewhere around the country.

“I think it's time for the President to actually keep his word that he does want to work with Republicans for good ideas and he could do so by adopting this measure passed by the House on Friday that Senator Johanns and I have presented to the Senate for their approval today.”