HHS Watchdog Unsure If Obamacare Will Work

Budget and resource constraints limiting HHS Inspector General, spokesman says

The full printout of Obamacare legislation / AP
September 25, 2013

The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services has not assessed whether Obamacare will be ready to roll out on Oct. 1, a spokesman for the inspector general said on Tuesday.

The inspector general’s office has not done in-depth inspections of specific parts of the law, the spokesman said.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is implementing much of the law, and the HHS Office of Inspector General is tasked with overseeing HHS operations.

"Whether the Affordable Care Act will be able to be up and fully functional on Oct. 1 is not something that we have done assessments of," said Donald White, an OIG spokesman.

"Office of Inspector General's (OIG) mission is to protect the integrity of Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) programs as well as the health and welfare of program beneficiaries," states the OIG website. It focuses on preventing waste, fraud, and abuse within HHS programs.

White said that resource limitations and budgetary constraints prevent the office from examining the entirety of the law.

"We certainly cannot do it all ourselves with the resources that are available to us," he said.

When asked about the data hub, which will transmit sensitive personal information from several federal agencies and which has been a central focus of those worried about the security of the law’s infrastructure, White said the OIG had not tested it.

"We haven’t done a verification," he said. The OIG did issue a report on the data hub in August, but the hub had not been completed at this point, and the OIG did not test the hub itself.

A press release from HHS last week hailed the data hub’s security certification but added that the department has created "a rapid response mechanism that will be employed in the unlikely event of a data security breach."

HHS did not return a request for comment on the security of the law’s infrastructure, and the OIG did not respond to a question about whether it knows anything about the new mechanism.

Congressional leaders and healthcare experts have criticized the OIG’s oversight efforts in the past, with one expert accusing the inspector general of "failing in his duty to the American people" at a congressional hearing earlier this year.

Congressional leaders have repeatedly expressed concerns about security under Obamacare. The data hub is at risk of a cyber attack, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) has said, while lax control over the numerous points of entry into the system pose another threat, according to Rep. James Lankford (R., Okla.).

The administration is currently mounting an effort to curb security weaknesses. The HHS OIG released several web banners on Tuesday to educate people about the potential for Obamacare scams, while the administration has set up a call center for people to report potential incidents of fraud. The Federal Trade Commission will be coordinating the response to fraud, White said.

With under a week to go until the exchanges are scheduled to open, the administration is pushing to get information out about potential fraud.

"At this point, what we think is really important is the substantive information," White said.

"The timeframe is obviously very tight, so there is a sense that we need to have things up and running so when people start the enrollment process on Oct. 1, we will be ready for them," he said.

Published under: HHS , Obamacare