Tavenner confirms controversial data hub complete

The controversial data hub that will connect state health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act with federal agencies--including the Internal Revenue Service--has been completed, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner (pictured). The hub will be used to help determine who will qualify for government subsidies when purchasing individual health insurance plans.

Tavenner confirmed the hub's completion at a congressional hearing held Wednesday, Bloomberg reported. Henry Chao, a lead technology information officer from CMS, added at the hearing that roughly 80 percent of the safeguards for protecting patient privacy are finished, as well, Kaiser Health News reported.

Testing for the hub, according to Tavenner, is expected to be complete by Sept. 1.

"It is important to understand that the hub is not a database," Tavenner said, according to KHN. "It does not retain or store information."

Several lawmakers, however, don't see it that way.

"It's information on 300 million Americans, all compiled in one place--what could go wrong?" Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who presided over the hearing, told Bloomberg. "They're going to have to assure a lot of Americans that their information is going to be held safe, and that there's a purpose for that."

At the hearing, Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) all also raised privacy concerns about the hub, according to KHN.

In a letter sent to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius late last month, 16 Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the hub, saying that "it remains unclear whether it will be operable and able to protect sensitive health and taxpayer information." One of the lawmakers who signed the letter--Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee--brought up similar concerns in an opinion piece published last month in U.S. News & World Report. In that piece, she called the potential for abuse of information to be stored on the hub "staggering."

To learn more:
- read the Bloomberg article
- here's the Kaiser Health News story

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