So by now you’ve probably seen the bit from yesterday’s Obamacare Website Blame Hearings where New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone called the proceedings a “monkey court” (wrong species, guy) and accused Republicans of trying to scare people away from signing up for the Affordable Care Act. What’s gotten a bit less attention was the substance of the accusation that Pallone was responding to: Texas congresskangaroo Joe Barton trying to suggest that anyone using the ACA website might unwittingly disclose protected health information. As Salon’s Brian Beutler explains, Barton wasn’t just wrong, he also gave Democrats a fine opportunity to talk about one of the ACA’s greatest strengths: By ending the practice of denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, the ACA lets people sign up for insurance without revealing the kind of private health information that used to be standard on every single insurance application ever. So, hey, sure hope we’ll hear some Democrats talking that up, right?
Barton acted like he’d got the ACA right where he wanted it:
With top executives from the private firms contracted to build Healthcare.gov seated before him on Capitol Hill, Barton presented a few lines of source code, which conclusively proved that Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces were erected in gross violation of federal health privacy laws. Or so he insisted.
“Are you aware this was in the source code? Do you think that’s HIPAA [Health Information Portability and Accountability Act] compliant?” Barton asked Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of the firm CGI, which built Healthcare.gov. “Admit it! You’re under oath.”
J’accuse! That source code included what seems like a very incriminating line, which Barton noted was not even visible to the user:
“[t]his is the part of the signup that is hidden. The applicant does not see this, but it is in the source code. And what that blue highlighted area that’s been circled in red says is, ‘You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transmitting or stored on this information system.’”
Except that, here’s the dealio: As Barton says, users don’t actually see that line, so they’re hardly agreeing to it. As for its being “in the source code,” it turns out that even the line Barton highlighted was merely inactive boilerplate copied over from another project and switched off in the code that actually runs on the ACA website. It doesn’t do anything. It is not actually part of the website. Barton’s “discovery” is a bit like complaining about a typo in a first draft that was deleted before the final version, but that can be found if you use “show changes.” He just didn’t mention that it has the programming equivalent of a line through it.
And considerably more important, nothing in the ACA application process asks anyone to reveal private health information, other than whether they smoke. It’s just plain not needed. Can’t very well violate HIPAA if you aren’t giving information that’s covered by HIPAA. And that grilling of Campbell is what triggered Pallone’s “Monkey court” comment. Beutler does some elaborating:
“Monkey court” was a headline grabber but the phrase didn’t in itself pertain to Pallone’s point, which was genuinely profound. Because Obamacare makes preexisting conditions discrimination is a thing of the past, it effectively eliminates one of the most invasive aspects of applying for health insurance, and the risks the process once posed to your health information privacy.
First-timers won’t appreciate it, but for all of Healthcare.gov’s problems, anyone who’s ever applied for insurance on the individual market prior to Obamacare will marvel at its simplicity. It eliminates the most time-consuming, and often degrading, part of the process altogether.
Not that Joe Barton especially cares that he’s lying about that “source code” — already, his grandstanding has gotten positive attention from the usual suspects in the wingnut echo chamber. Get ready to hear endless rants about the secret part of Obamacare that forces you to sign away your privacy rights, even though no such thing exists.
As usual, the truth is still tying its shoes.
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