By Donna Cassata
WASHINGTON: The Republican-led House voted overwhelmingly Friday to bolt new security requirements onto President Barack Obama’s health-care law, with 67 Democrats breaking ranks to join with the GOP. It was the first skirmish of what is certain to be a long and contentious election-year fight.
The vote was 291-122 with Republicans relentlessly focusing on the Affordable Care Act, convinced that Americans’ unease with the troubled law will translate into significant election gains in November. Dozens of Democrats, nervous about their re-election chances or their campaigns for other offices, voted for the GOP bill.
“Americans have the right to know if the president’s health-care law has put their personal information at risk, and today’s bipartisan vote reflects that concern,” said Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester.
Among the Democrats joining the Republicans was Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of his party’s campaign committee dedicated to electing Democrats.
“I voted for this bill because I want to make sure confidential information is protected. That’s just common sense,” Israel said in a statement. “This is an added consumer safeguard on top of the many consumer protections in the law that already exist.”
The bill would require the secretary of health and human services to notify an individual within two business days of any security breach involving personal data provided to the government through the health-care website HealthCare.gov.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that the administration opposes the measure as an unnecessary and costly burden. He said the government already has imposed stringent security standards, uses sensors and other tools to deter unauthorized access and conducts regular testing. He said Americans will be notified if personal information has been compromised.
Several House Democrats said the measure was a GOP message bill designed to scare people away from enrolling in coverage.
The bill stands no chance for final approval in the Democratic-led Senate.
Also Friday, the administration said it was parting ways with the lead outside contractor for the sign-up website, which had to be rebuilt after its disastrous launch last fall.
Obama, meanwhile, lunched at a Washington restaurant with five young people to call attention to a need for young Americans to enroll for insurance through the law. The administration needs millions of Americans, but especially young, healthier people, to enroll to keep prices low for everyone.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans said their legislation on the overhaul addressed potential security breaches, though they offered no specific examples of compromised information to this point.
Democrats said there had been no breaches at the health-care website. The bill was simply a Republican effort to “put fear into the public,” according to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Rep. Diane DeGette, D-Colo., described the legislation as a “solution in search of a problem.” In fact, there was at least one breach last year. A North Carolina man tried to log onto the website and got a South Carolina man’s personal information. The administration had to scramble to make a software fix.