Data Sharing

Agencies pledge IT readiness for Obamacare

Danny Werfel

IRS Commissioner Daniel Wefel testified at a congressional hearing when the official in charge of the Affordable Care Act was unable to attend. (File photo).

Despite concerns that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are behind schedule in preparing to implement the Affordable Care Act, leaders from CMS and the Internal Revenue Service testified before Congress on July 17 that their technologies will be ready for the data-sharing that will commence Oct. 1.

"The ACA designates HHS as the conduit for information being shared with the marketplace," said Daniel Werfel, the principal deputy commissioner of the IRS. "The taxpayer data supplied by the IRS will be transmitted over secure, encrypted channels to the HHS data hub, which was developed to facilitate these data transfers."

Werfel testified in the place of Sarah Hall Ingram, who is the head of the IRS ACA office and was invited to testify before the House joint subcommittee. Several lawmakers criticized Ingram for her absence.

"I have less confidence in today's hearing for only one reason: a key witness, Sarah Ingram, who has three years of full-time experience since the passage of the bill, in some inexplicable way finds herself unable to be here," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said.

Before stepping into her current role, Ingram was the head of the IRS office of tax exemption for organizations when conservative groups were allegedly targeted, making her an especially polarizing figure for many Republicans in Congress. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), ranking member on the panel's Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee, warned against making the hearing into a witch-hunt. Speier instead turned her concern to outside fraud and security threats to data-sharing related to the ACA.

"I believe that the hub has a bull's eye on it and that the potential for it being hacked is great," Speier said.

CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, however, said there is a difference between the federal data hub and stored medical information.

"It is important to understand that the hub is not a database, it does not retain or store information," Tavenner said. "It is a routing tool that can validate applicant information from various trusted government databases through secure networks."

Henry Chao, CMS' deputy CIO and deputy director of the Office of Information Services, said the Government Accountability Office reported the federal data hub will cost $394 million. The vast majority of data exchanges through the hub have tested at less than 10 seconds, and the hub erases its copy of the information within minutes, he said.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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