WASHINGTON — Republicans targeted President Barack Obama's health care law on Friday, pushing legislation to impose new rules on the administration that Democrats argued was designed to scare Americans from enrolling for coverage.
The GOP-led House was expected to pass the measure that 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 during health care enrollment.
The GOP's laser-like focus on "Obamacare" reflects the party's certainty that the law's well-known problems will pay political dividends in November's midterm contests. The bill was the first of many expected this election year as emboldened Republicans try to keep the law front and center.
The administration opposes the bill, which stands no chance in the Democratic-led Senate.
Republicans insisted that the legislation was necessary to address potential problems, and pointed to last year's security breach at Target Corp. The nation's second-largest retailer said Friday that personal information connected to about 70 million customers through credit and debit card accounts had been stolen in a pre-Christmas data breach.
"What if Target had not bothered to tell anyone?" asked Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who argued that the Health and Human Services Department's promise to notify Americans of security breaches needed the force of law.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke of "credible and documented fear" of the health care website.
Democrats said there had been no security breaches at the health care website and the bill was simply a Republican effort to scare Americans from signing up for coverage with misinformation.
"They are trying to put fear into the public," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Rep. Diane DeGette, D-Colo., described the legislation as a "solution in search of a problem."
Republicans used debate on the bill to assail the health care law, using oft-repeated criticism such as "train wreck" and disaster.
The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans who lack insurance, lower health care costs, increase access to preventive services and eliminate some of the pre-existing conditions that insurance companies have used to deny coverage. The health care website HealthCare.gov got off to a calamitous start on Oct. 1, followed quickly by widespread reports of canceled policies and higher premiums.
To date, more than 2 million Americans have signed up for coverage through the federal marketplace covering 36 states and exchanges in 14 states. At the same time, at least 4.7 million people who buy their own insurance were told their policies would no longer be offered this year because they failed to meet the standards of the law.
Republicans who steadfastly opposed the law seized on Obama's proclamation — repeated by many Democrats — that if you like your health care, you can keep it, using the law as a political cudgel. The House voted more than 40 times last year to repeal, replace or undo parts of the law, and Republican leaders signaled they will not relent this year.
The administration, in objecting to the measure, said it already has implemented safeguards to secure personal information and notify consumers if a breach occurs.
"When consumers fill out their online marketplace applications, they can trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards," the administration said in a statement Thursday.
The House had planned to vote on another bill that would require the administration to report weekly on the number of visits to the government health care website, the number of Americans who applied and the number of enrollees by ZIP code, as well as other statistics. The administration has opposed this measure, saying it has been providing information on enrollments, and the added requirements would force it to hire new staff.
A Republican leadership aide said the House did not have enough time to complete the bill. The House was expected to complete its legislative work by midday Friday.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company