Congress to mull security measures, healthcare reform

Congress returns from its holiday break today with plans to tackle healthcare reform, new legislation to make more secure and yet another deadline to keep the government running or face another government shutdown.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor intends to schedule floor action this week to address proposals to make safer and notify consumers when there is a data breach, according to a Reuters report. Republicans already have submitted several bills on security for the website, and Cantor indicated he may propose legislation that combines them.

Fox News reports that in a memo to GOP colleagues, Cantor wrote that lawmakers need to strengthen the website's security requirements because "Americans have enough to worry about as we enter the new year without having to wonder if they can trust the government to inform them when their personal information--entered into a government-mandated website--has been compromised."

Republicans fear, which was beset with technical troubles since its launch Oct. 1, 2013, is vulnerable to attack because it collects personal information such as names, birthdates and email addresses. However, White House officials have said that the website is performing better now and has had no security issues, and that more than 2 million people have successfully enrolled in private health insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.

"To date, there have been no successful security attacks on and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information from the site," Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told Politico. "Security testing is conducted on an ongoing basis using industry best practices to appropriately safeguard consumers' personal information."

Security of the site is just one part of Cantor's plans for "greater transparency" from the White House on "disclosure of reliable and complete enrollment data," The Hill reports.

Cantor's memo alludes to efforts to repeal healthcare reform, although it doesn't lay out a specific plan, according to The Hill. "These steps will be part of the overall effort to protect the American people from the harmful effects of ObamaCare by ultimately repealing and replacing the law with patient focused reforms that expand access, ensure quality care, and help control costs," Cantor wrote.

Reuters reports that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi responded in a statement that Republicans appeared intent on undermining the ACA--even if it meant "scaring their constituents from obtaining health coverage."

In addition to the continued focus on, Congress also must work out a specific budget deal by Jan. 15 to avert another partial government shutdown. Republican demands for major concessions to healthcare reform led to an impasse last fall that resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown.

Sarah Binder, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., tells NPR she thinks Republicans will compromise in order to avoid a similar situation.

"Politically, my sense is Republicans have decided that their party took such a bad beating for being blamed for the shutdown that they don't want to go back there again and so they will find a way to compromise," Binder said.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- here's the Fox News report
- read the Politico article
- check out The Hill article
- here's the NPR piece

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