State leaders on Wednesday morning raised numerous concerns about the federal government’s implementation of Obamacare, as one of the central provisions of the law is set to be implemented in less than two weeks.
Officials from Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina testified before two subcommittees of the House Oversight Committee in the latest of a series of House hearings about the law’s implementation.
Federal and state-run health care exchanges, the markets on which those without insurance will be able to purchase coverage, are set to open in less than two weeks.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said the law’s "data hub," which will route information from federal agencies to the exchanges in the states, could easily be exploited by criminals.
"When [the exchange] goes live on Oct. 1, it may not be a third world experience, but it will be a con-man’s all you can eat buffet overflowing with a gold mine of sensitive information from the agency databases that flow into the [data] hub," Wilson said.
Agencies that will feed information into the hub include the Social Security Administration, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the IRS, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Wilson cited attacks on South Carolina’s Department of Revenue and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, which have compromised the personal information of millions of people, as examples of what could happen.
The "navigators," whom states and the federal government are hiring to help people sign up for health insurance on the exchanges, are also a potential security risk, Wilson said.
The navigators will not have to undergo a background check and will receive minimal training despite having access to people’s Social Security numbers and other personal information.
"Americans should not have to barter their privacy and financial security for health insurance," Wilson said.
The federal government has done a poor job implementing other parts of the law and communicating with the states as they were making decisions, the state officials testified.
The federal government opened a call center in Louisiana this month, giving the employees there less than a month to train. Louisiana Secretary of Health and Hospitals Kathy Kliebert told the committee about a man who called the center to learn about his options, only to be told to contact the Louisiana state government and ask about possibly enrolling in Medicaid, even though Louisiana has rejected expanding Medicaid.
"If the federal call center employees do not even know basic information like which states are expanding Medicaid and which are not, how are they to be expected to help individuals navigate the complex process of qualifying for an advanced premium tax credit and selecting from potentially hundreds of health plan coverage options," Kliebert said.
The federal government failed to communicate with the Florida legislature about the details of the exchanges as the legislature was deciding whether or not to set up an exchange, said Florida state Rep. Matt Hudson (R.).
Florida was debating last fall whether to set up an exchange, and the legislature’s leadership sent a letter with questions to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"They received a response in January—after the notice deadline for a state-based exchange—which contained no answers to any of the questions" Hudson said.
Obamacare is also driving up the cost of health insurance for some people, hurting the economy, argued Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R.).
"The Affordable Care Act is a drag on the economy like ice is on the wings of an airplane," Colyer said.
Only two insurance companies are offering insurance on the exchange in Kansas, which the federal government is running, Colyer told the committee.
"This is not going to make healthcare more affordable," Colyer said. "We can do a much better job."
The Democrats on the committee invited three witnesses to testify—two more than the customary one for the minority party—with the permission of the Republican majority. These witnesses argued that the law could help many people.
"Economic ruin should not be the price of having a sick child," said South Carolina state Sen. Brad Hutton (D.). Obamacare will expand health coverage and create new jobs, Hutton argued.
Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D.) said her state should accept the federal help offered under the law.
"It’s what’s right," she said.
Other Democrats on the committee blasted the Republican majority for wanting to repeal or delay the law.
"This is the law. Hello! This is the law!" said House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D., Md.). All members of Congress take an oath to uphold the law, Cummings said, and they should do their job.
All congressmen take an oath to "support and defend the Constitution," not the laws.
Cummings’s office did not immediately return a request to clarify his statement.