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U.S. lawmaker subpoenas Sebelius for Obamacare documents

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius takes her seat to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hear
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius takes her seat to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hear

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior House of Representatives lawmaker subpoenaed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents related to the troubled launch of the Obamacare website, HealthCare.gov, his office said on Thursday.

Representative Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he had subpoenaed Sebelius for information he and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander have sought since October 10.

The documents they want to see relate to the website's technical problems, how it was tested and the number of people who have enrolled in healthcare exchanges through the site, as well as the number who have attempted to enroll. The subpoena requires the documents to be produced by November 13.

Republicans have sought to derail the healthcare overhaul since Obama took office in 2009 and have seized on recent technical issues to further attack the law.

They have found additional ammunition as hundreds of thousands of people in recent weeks have received health-plan cancellation notices, after Obama repeatedly pledged that Americans who like their current plans can keep them under Obamacare.

The plans are being canceled because they do not include minimum benefits such as maternity care and mental health coverage, as required by the law.

Issa, in his statement, referenced both the policy cancellation controversy and the technical issues, saying HealthCare.gov was "entirely dysfunctional" and also said it was putting Americans' personal information at risk.

"The evidence is mounting that the website did not go through proper testing, including critical security testing, and that the administration ignored repeated warnings from contractors about ongoing problems," the Republican said.

HealthCare.gov, the federal website where residents of 36 states can buy new health care plans, has been plagued by technology issues since its October 1 launch.

Both the federal exchange and exchanges built by 14 other states and Washington D.C. were set up to let residents enroll in new plans created under the Affordable Care Act, Obama's 2010 healthcare reform law commonly known as Obamacare.

CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION

The HealthCare.gov site collects a trove of sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers and birth dates that could be used by criminals in an array of schemes.

A government memorandum dated September 27 and reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday warned that the security of the site was "at risk" because of lack of testing before it opened for enrollment.

A government spokeswoman said on Wednesday that steps to mitigate security concerns have been implemented since the memo and that consumer data is secure.

The administration has also promised that the website will be fixed by the end of November.

But in an embarrassment to Sebelius, HealthCare.gov was not fully functional for much of Wednesday as Sebelius testified before a House oversight committee.

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services said the website was back up.

"Verizon Terremark has successfully resolved their issue with the networking component overnight and HealthCare.gov and the Data Services Hub are now working normally," Health and Human Services said in a statement.

It said Verizon Terremark, which is operating the data services hub that serves the website, had rebuilt a core network switch to restore service.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, with additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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