Obama Administration Says Data Hub for ACA Exchanges Is Ready

On Tuesday, an Obama administration official said that work on the federal data hub for the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges has been completed, the Washington Post reports (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 9/10).

Background

The data hub is designed to connect federal agencies with state health insurance exchanges.

It is meant to verify exchange applicants' income information with the IRS and then transmit verifications back to the marketplace.

It also aims to relay information between the exchanges and other federal agencies, such as Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security.

The $267 million system was built by a unit of UnitedHealth Group.

Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about potential privacy issues related to the hub (iHealthBeat, 8/15).

Setbacks

In August, HHS' Office of the Inspector General released a report that found that CMS had delayed due dates involved with preparing the data hub's launch by a month or more since March and limited the amount of time that can be used to test the hub's security prior to launch. 

The OIG report found there were "several critical tasks" CMS still needed to complete, including:

  • The final independent testing of the hub's security controls;
  • Addressing security risks identified during testing; and
  • Obtaining security authorization for the hub before the ACA's health insurance exchanges are launched (iHealthBeat, 8/13).

Testing Complete, Officials Say

However, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park this week said that necessary testing on the hub was completed on Friday.

"After over two years of work, [the hub] is built and ready for operation, and we have completed security testing and certification to operate," Park said, adding, "This is an important step in being ready for open enrollment on Oct. 1" (Washington Post, 9/10).

In addition, four vendors contracted to work on the exchanges told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health that the exchanges will be ready by the deadline. The contractors were:

  • CGI Federal;
  • Equifax Work Solutions;
  • Serco; and
  • Quality Software Services.

Officials with the vendors addressed lawmakers concerns about:

  • Readiness of the data hub;
  • Electronic applications;
  • Paper applications;
  • Income and employment verification;
  • Project modifications; and
  • Privacy of personal data (Dick Tocknell, HealthLeaders Media, 9/11).

Skepticism Remains

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers and other observers expressed doubt that the marketplaces will be ready by Oct. 1, CQ Roll Call reports.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said he is "skeptical" that the exchanges will "function as advertised on Oct. 1 given the myriad of missed deadlines by the administration," adding, "I'm afraid this ... experiment will not end well."

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) noted that "[s]tates have begun making contingency plans" to only partially launch the exchanges by the deadline. Despite the emergence of such plans, he said "the administration continues the same refrain: We will be ready."

Brett Graham -- a partner at Leavitt Partners -- said "there is not a single state that is completely ready for open enrollment three weeks away" (Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 9/10).


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