PJ Media

Despite Security Vulnerabilities, Obamacare Exchanges Will Open Oct. 1

Despite reports of technical issues facing the healthcare law’s “data hub,” a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said the hub “will be ready” when the federal health insurance marketplaces open on Oct. 1.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general recently reported that the data hub security testing is months behind.

“The delays mean that the ruling by CMS’s chief information officer certifying the Obamacare IT system as secure will be pushed back from September 4 to September 30, a day before enrollment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law that established Obamacare, is supposed to start,” Reuters reported on Aug. 4.

“Several critical tasks remain to be completed in a short period of time,” the IG report said.

The hub will be used to verify the income and other personal information entered by applicants seeking a health insurance subsidy under Obamacare.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director for policy and regulation, participated in a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about the status of the health insurance exchanges that are set to launch nationally in a month and a half.

Following the event, PJ Media asked Brooks-LaSure if the data hub would be “fully secure” by Oct. 1. She referred the question to a CMS spokesperson.

“We are on schedule and will be ready for the marketplaces to open on Oct. 1. This study was conducted in May, and we have made significant progress in the three months since then,” said CMS spokeswoman Alicia Hartinger in response.

“CMS has extensive experience building and operating information technology systems that handle sensitive data. This experience comes from many years administering the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs.”

HHS said the data hub is going to transfer applicants’ information between marketplace systems and existing federal agencies’ systems like the Department of Homeland Security.

Under testimony before a House committee, HHS Insurance Oversight Director Gary Cohen assured members of Congress that the hub itself is not going to store personal information entered by the applicants.

“The hub just routes information from the secure data sources — IRS, Social Security, etc. — so that it — so that we can verify information that people put on their applications,” Cohen said.

“We have been testing the federal hub, which as you know, is a way to make sure that states are able to interface with the federal government – queries, different databases, secure databases,” said Brooks-LaSure at the Capitol Hill briefing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform.

“So, testing began in October of last year and continues ongoing with the states and with other of our partner federal agencies that we’ve worked with.”

Applicants must meet certain income requirements to qualify for health insurance subsidies under the law.

HHS provided PJ Media with a document that describes the steps CMS will take to verify an applicant’s income with the data hub.

“Marketplaces will always use data from tax filings and Social Security data to verify household income information provided on an application, and in many cases, will also use current wage information that is available electronically. The multi-step process begins when an application filer applies for insurance affordability programs (including advance payments of the premium tax credit and cost-sharing reductions) through the Marketplace and affirms or inputs their projected annual household income,” CMS said.

“The applicant’s inputted projected annual household income is then compared with information available from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA). If the data submitted as part of the application cannot be verified using IRS and SSA data, then the information is compared with wage information from employers provided by Equifax.”

Then, if the Equifax data does not “substantiate” the information submitted, “the Marketplace will request an explanation” or “additional documentation” to verify the applicant’s income.

ALSO READ: McConnell Implores CMS to Not Open Obamacare Exchanges While Data Vulnerable to Thieves