Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) was apparently unhappy Thursday with one Republican colleague's tense and uncomfortable exchange with one the chief contractors responsible for the error-riddled Obamacare website, and at one point even referred to the congressional proceedings as a "monkey court."
Pallone's outburst came after Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) pointed to specific wording in the site’s source code: “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system.”
The line has raised serious questions regarding the health care site and its contractors and their compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, a law meant to protect patient privacy.
The 1996 law states specifically that “federal protections for individually identifiable health information held by covered entities and their business associates and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information.”
Barton had called on Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president with contractor CGI Federal, one of the companies responsible for creating and maintaining the website portal for Obamacare, to explain the passage. He asked if she was aware of the passage and, if so, to explain how it was HIPPA-compliant.
“How in the world can this be HIPAA-compliant when HIPAA is designed to protect the patient’s privacy and this explicitly says in order to continue you have to accept this condition that you have no privacy — no reasonable expectation of privacy?” Barton asked.
Campbell said the wording was included at the direction of the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.
“This is news to you?” Barton asked, gesturing toward an image of the passage. “You’re the main, prime contractor. You’ve never seen this before?”
Campbell seemingly dodged his question by pointing out that CGI Federal was one of several companies responsible for developing the Obamacare website. Eventually, however, she admitted she was aware that the passage was buried in the source code.
“Do you think that’s HIPPA compliant?” the Texas congressman pressed. “How can that be?”
“Sir,” Campbell responded after a pause, during which Barton reminded her she was under oath, “that is CMS’ decision.”
“You’re telling every American, ‘If you sign up for this – or even attempt to – you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.’ That is a direct contradiction of HIPPA and you know it.”
Again, Campbell responded by citing that the passage was included at the request of CMS.
Despite Barton’s repeated attempts to get to the bottom of issue, he was not able to find out the identity of the person who ordered that the passage be included on the website.
Barton’s Democratic colleagues were not about to let his exchange with Campbell go unanswered.
After Barton yielded his time, Pallone argued that “HIPAA only applies when there’s health information that's being provided,” as opposed to enrollment information made privy to programmers.
“HIPAA doesn’t apply. There is no health information in the process. You’re asked about your address, your date of birth. You are not asked health information,” he said.
When a colleague tried to interject, the New Jersey congressman resisted.
“I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever it is,” he said.
“Why are we going down this path?” he continued. “Because you are trying to scare people so they don’t apply and so therefore the legislation gets delayed or the Affordable Care Act gets defunded or it’s repealed. That’s all it is, hoping people won’t apply.”
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This post has been updated.