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The Obamacare Site: Roughly as Safe as Those E-Mails from Nigerian Princes

FromJim Geraghty   

Morning Jolt
. . . with Jim Geraghty

Nivember 04, 2013

The Obamacare Site: Roughly as Safe as Those E-Mails from Nigerian Princes

Security failures will be the fourth horseman* of the Obamacare Apocalypse, after Website Failures, Canceled Plans, and the Part-Time Workforce.

I know it will shock you, but it turns out the Obamacare website can’t protect your personal information, just as it’s failing in the rest of its basic tasks:

Justin Hadley logged on to to evaluate his insurance options after his health plan was canceled. What he discovered was an apparent security flaw that disclosed eligibility letters addressed to individuals from another state.

“I was in complete shock,” said Hadley, who contacted Heritage after becoming alarmed at the breach of privacy.

Hadley, a North Carolina father, buys his insurance on the individual market. His insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, directed him to in a cancellation letter he received in September.

After multiple attempts to access the problem-plagued website, Hadley finally made it past the registration page Thursday. That’s when he was greeted with downloadable letters about eligibility — for two people in South Carolina. (Screenshot below.)

The letters, dated October 8, acknowledge receipt of an application to the Health Insurance Marketplace and the eligibility of family members to purchase health coverage. One of the letters was addressed to Thomas Dougall, a lawyer from Elgin, SC.

Hadley shared a screenshot and copy of the letter with redacted personal information.

Hadley wrote to Heritage on Thursday night and also contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers, as well as elected officials in his state. He has yet to hear back from HHS, even though still displays the personal information of the South Carolina residents on his account.

I’m sure HHS is pretty busy right now, but perhaps Secretary Sebelius could be doing fewer promotional events for and spending more time making sure it’s not turning into wonderland for identity thieves.

Five days ago, Kathleen Sebelius tried to reassure Congress, “the hub is not a data collector.” Take one look at the dozens upon dozens of pieces of personal information that a user plugs in, and contemplate whether Sebelius even understands what she’s talking about.

* This is not to say that Obamacare will be limited to only four horsemen.

White House: Don’t Blame Obama; He Was Oblivious to the Problems!

You can say this sort of thing to protect the president, but the failure to fire Kathleen Sebelius afterwards looks even more inexplicable.

President Obama was assured that the healthcare insurance website was ready to launch on Oct. 1, even as private contractors and some administration officials knew the site had failed in early testing, a senior White House advisor said Sunday.

Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said the president repeatedly asked about the website, a key piece of his 2010 healthcare overhaul legislation, and was told it would meet his expectations.

Along with the president, Pfeiffer hyped the website in the weeks before the troubled launch, promising it would “be a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, but also in the private sector.”

“We did believe that,” Pfeiffer said on ABC's "This Week."

Based on all the cover-my-butt memos and warnings from contractors, we know that this was not an innocent mistake. Officials within the Department of Health and Human Services knew about the problems and launched anyway. The testing was minimal and when it was tested, the site mostly failed.

Here’s our old friend Bruce Webster on the importance of testing:

You can’t inspect a software program the same way you can inspect a house or a car. You can’t touch it, you can’t walk around it, you can’t open the hood or the bedroom door to see what’s inside, you can’t take it out for spin. There are very few tangible or visible clues to the completeness and reliability of a software system—and so we have to rely on [quality assurance] activities to tell us how well built the system is.

Furthermore, almost any software system developed nowadays for production is vastly more complex than a house or car—it’s more on the same order of complexity of a large petrochemical processing and storage facility, with thousands of possible interconnections, states, and processes. We would be (rightly) terrified if, say, Exxon build such a sprawling oil refining complex near our neighborhood and then started up production having only done a bare minimum of inspection, testing, and trial operations before, during and after construction, offering the explanation that they would wait until after the plant went into production and then handle problems as they crop up. Yet too often that’s just how large software development projects are run, even though the system in development may well be more complex (in terms of connections, processes, and possible states) than such a petrochemical factory. And while most inadequately tested software systems won’t spew pollutants, poison the neighborhood, catch fire, or explode, they can cripple corporate operations, lose vast sums of money, spark shareholder lawsuits, and open the corporation’s directors and officers to civil and even criminal liability (particularly with the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley).

Keep in mind, after Obama’s pep rally at the White House October 21, where he seemed so dismissive of the glaring failures of the site, it was fair to wonder if he was being accurately and fully briefed on the problems with the site, or whether he was walking around in a bubble of happy talk, wondering why that usually agreeable press had been so cranky about the site so far. Now White House officials are telling us that the president was oblivious to the problems until the launch date.

He didn’t know the real situation then. Why are we to believe he knows the real situation now?

For how much of his presidency has Obama known what was really going on?

In USA Today, Tom Rogan argues Obama’s been living in a “Matrix” of his own making:

Obama's Matrix is a dream world divorced from courage and facts.

Promises mean little in this world because when they're broken, Obama just redefines the promise. Take Obama's "red lines" in Syria. The principle was an explicit clarification that punitive military action would follow Syrian President Bashar Assad's use of WMDs. What followed was a Russian swindle that broadcast American impotence. Except, in the Obama Matrix, Obama had really won; it was the critics who were mistaken, we who lacked the intellectual sufficiency to grasp the brilliance of Obama's brain.

But now the White House has a problem. Now, finally, the American people have had enough. Now, reality has encircled the White House.

In the political storm that the health care debacle has reaped, the president and his staff are realizing that at a basic level, the "buck" has objective form. Slowly, they're recognizing that the shrine of plausible deniability eventually becomes implausible. Whether in business or government, leadership is about more than positive intentions

Obama’s schedule for this week indicates how he’s going to deal with this problem: By ignoring it. There is nothing on the schedule explicitly dealing with the continuing problems with the Obamacare rollout. Sure, he’ll probably mention it in passing before Organizing for Action or at the event on the economy, but the tone will probably echo George W. Bush’s “stay the course” Iraq War comments. “Give the tech surge time to work.”

On Monday, the President will welcome the five-time Stanley Cup Champions the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House to honor the team and their 2013 Stanley Cup victory. Following the visit, the President will deliver remarks at an Organizing for Action event.

On Tuesday, the President will travel to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and visit with Wounded Warriors who are being treated at the hospital and their families. The President will also visit the Fisher House, a program that supports military families by welcoming them to stay at the House while their loved one receives specialized medical care.

On Wednesday, the President will travel to Dallas, Texas to participate in DSCC events.

Reminder: The DSCC “event” is a high-dollar fundraiser.

On Thursday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

On Friday, the President will travel to the New Orleans area for an event on the economy. Later, he will travel to Miami, Florida to participate in DNC and DSCC events.

Go Figure. A Bad Tuesday Could Lead to GOP Control of Virginia’s Senate

A silver lining from an expected thrashing in the Virginia lieutenant governor’s race:

Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam is facing Republican preacher E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor. But GOP officials may be smiling even if Jackson loses, as polls predict. That’s because Northam would have to give up his seat in the now-evenly-divided Virginia Senate – opening the door for Republicans to capture an outright majority in that chamber.

Northam holds a 16 percentage-point lead over Jackson, according to the Roanoke College Poll. The survey, released Wednesday, showed Northam at 48 percent and Jackson at 32 percent. (The remaining respondents were uncertain or did not answer. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.) Previous surveys by The Washington Post/Abt SRBI and Christopher Newport University also gave Northam double-digit margins.

If Northam wins on Tuesday, a special election would be called to fill the seat representing the 6th Senate District, which includes parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore…

The 6th District seat that Northam holds has voted both Republican and Democratic. From 1941 to 2000, the seat was held by a Democrat. But from 2000 to 2008, Republican Nick Rerras represented the district.

ADDENDUM: Many folks offered the same wry observation this weekend about the irony of Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama telling his staff, “I’m really good at killing people.”

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