WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry isn't exactly pulling any punches as he tries to force the Obama administration to provide more data on the new health insurance marketplaces.
Writing on the conservative website Breitbart.com this week, the Omaha Republican accused the administration of repeatedly lying to the public. He cited the president's broken promise that people could keep their insurance plans as well as cover-up allegations related to the Benghazi terrorist attacks. And he said the new healthcare.gov insurance marketplace has left Americans vulnerable to theft of their personal information.
“Knowing your information was vulnerable and ignoring internal security requirements, the Obama administration went live with healthcare.gov, placing more value on political expediency than on protecting the best interests of your personal and private information,” Terry wrote. “Time and again, this administration has proven that it cannot be trusted.”
That kind of aggressive criticism certainly fits with the national GOP strategy of beating the health care drum throughout 2014 in hopes that continuing attacks on the new law bring electoral success to GOP candidates. Friday, for example, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill aimed at addressing potential data security issues with the federal website — a vote that helps keep the spotlight on the law's rocky start.
Terry's tough anti-Obama talk also could burnish his conservative credentials as he faces off against a primary challenger, although Terry sought to play down the political angles of his own legislation.
Although Terry remains an opponent of the health care law, he said his bill does not attempt to repeal it.
Rather, he said, he wants to make the Obama administration more accountable by requiring weekly updates on how many people sign up for coverage through the marketplaces, where they live and the coverage they select.
The administration also would have to detail any problems with the website and efforts to fix them, as well as the names of “navigators” — those who work under federal grants to help individuals sign up for policies through the exchanges.
Terry says more timely, comprehensive data is necessary for state insurance commissioners to effectively regulate the companies providing insurance in their states through the marketplaces. He also suggested it would allow for greater public accountability and better congressional oversight.
The administration released a statement opposing what it described as Terry's “extraneous, costly and unprecedented reporting requirements,” but stopped short of promising a veto if it were to reach the president's desk.
According to administration officials, the stepped-up reporting requirements could force modification of existing contracts and the need to hire additional staff in a hurry. Officials say that would translate into millions of dollars in additional costs to states and the federal government — all to provide information that is largely being reported already, albeit on a monthly basis.
“Few major indicators — from job growth to Medicare Advantage enrollment to private shareholder reports — are provided more frequently than monthly,” according to the administration's statement. “This bill would hold the marketplaces and state Medicaid programs to unprecedented standards.”
Terry can point to a Congressional Budget Office finding that the legislation would have no cost.
He introduced the legislation after he publicly pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the issue when she appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in October.
At the time, Terry noted that the contractors working on the website had indicated there was plenty of data available. He asked Sebelius to provide it or allow the contractors to do so. She declined and insisted that the administration's monthly reporting structure was the best way to ensure that lawmakers and the public get the most accurate, reliable information.
Terry used excerpts from his back-and-forth with the secretary as the basis for a YouTube video that he posted online, complete with dramatic background music.
“Even though it sounded fairly partisan in our hearing on the bill, I think we're going to get a lot of Democratic votes just because it is simply a transparency bill,” Terry said in an interview this week. “We're just saying this data is important.”