A debate about whether the Obamacare website violates federal health care privacy laws raged Thursday during a House hearing on the flawed rollout of HealthCare.gov.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, made the claim based on a report in the conservative publication the Weekly Standard. He was speaking during a hearing run by the House Energy and Commerce committee Thursday titled "PPACA Implementation Failures: Didn't Know or Didn't Disclose?"
Barton said part of the source code in the program that runs the Obamacare website reads that users should have “no reasonable expectation of privacy about communication or data stored on the system.” The Texas Republican claimed that line of source code, which cannot be viewed by a user on HealthCare.gov., violates the health care privacy law commonly known as HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
“How in the world can this website be HIPAA-compliant when HIPAA is designed to protect the patient’s privacy?” Barton asked Cheryl Campbell of CGI Federal, one of the prime contractors on the HealthCare.gov website.
Campbell said it was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that made the decision to put that source code into the program. She admitted that CGI Federal was aware of that phrase being in the source code, but she did not directly answer Barton’s question.
“You know it’s not HIPAA-compliant; admit it,” Barton said. “You’re under oath. Your company is the company that put this together. We’re telling every American … that you sign up for this or even attempt to, you have no expectation of privacy. That is a direct contradiction of HIPAA and you know it.”
But Barton’s claim that the source code represents a violation of privacy laws was dismissed by his colleague, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
DeGette said that as she understood it, the Obamacare website doesn’t need any medical information from users who enroll other than whether they smoke or not. She said that question would not violate HIPAA.
“I’m disappointed that my friend would go down this road,” she said, referring to Barton. She accused her colleague of using the perceived privacy issue as one of the reasons to do away with the Affordable Care Act.
“I realize that in fact a lot of people don’t want the Affordable Care Act to work and they're raising all these privacy specters,” she said.
Campbell was one of four people representing HealthCare.gov contractors to testify about the issues that plagued the Obamacare website.