WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led House voted overwhelmingly Friday to bolt new security requirements onto President Barack Obama's health care law, with 67 Democrats breaking ranks to join with the GOP. It was the first skirmish of what is certain to be a long and contentious election-year fight.
The vote was 291-122, with Republicans relentlessly focusing on "Obamacare" -- convinced that Americans' unease with the law's troubled rollout will translate into significant election gains in November. Dozens of Democrats, nervous about their re-election chances or their campaigns for other offices, voted for the GOP bill.
"Americans have the right to know if the president's health care law has put their personal information at risk, and today's bipartisan vote reflects that concern," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Among Democrats joining the Republicans was New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of his party's campaign committee dedicated to electing Democrats. "I voted for this bill because I want to make sure confidential information is protected. That's just common sense," he said in a statement. "This is an added consumer safeguard on top of the many consumer protections in the law that already exist."
The bill would require the Health and Human Services secretary to notify an individual within two business days of any security breach involving personal data provided to the government through the health care website HealthCare.gov.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that the administration opposes the measure as an unnecessary and costly burden. He said the government already has imposed stringent security standards, uses sensors and other tools to deter unauthorized access and conducts regular testing. He said Americans will be notified if personal information has been compromised.
Several House Democrats said the measure was a GOP message bill designed to scare people away from enrolling in coverage. The bill stands no chance for final approval in the Democratic-led Senate.
Elsewhere on Friday:
* The administration said it was parting ways with the lead outside contractor for the sign-up website, which had to be rebuilt after its disastrous launch last fall.
* Mr. Obama lunched at a Washington restaurant with five young people to call attention to a need for young Americans to enroll for insurance through the law. The administration needs millions of Americans --but especially young, healthier people -- to enroll to keep prices low for everyone.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans said their legislation on the overhaul addressed potential security breaches, though they offered no specific examples of compromised information to this point. Instead, they pointed to the recent security breach at Target Corp. But Democrats said there had been no breaches at the health care website. The bill was simply a GOP effort to "put fear into the public," according to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
In fact, there was at least one breach last year. A North Carolina man tried to log onto the website and got a South Carolina man's personal information. The administration had to scramble to make a software fix.
Republicans used debate on the bill to assail the health care law more broadly.
The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans who lack insurance, to lower health care costs, to increase access to preventive services and to eliminate some of the pre-existing condition requirements that insurance firms have used to deny coverage. The health care website got off to a calamitous start Oct. 1, followed quickly by widespread reports of canceled policies and higher premiums.
To date, more than 2 million Americans have signed up for coverage through the federal marketplace covering 36 states and separate exchanges in 14 states. At the same time, at least 4.7 million people who buy their own insurance were told that their policies would no longer be offered this year because they failed to meet the law's minimum standards.
Next up as a political test is a House bill that would require the administration to report weekly on the number of visits to the government health care website, the number of Americans who applied and the number of enrollees by ZIP code, as well as other statistics. The administration has opposed this measure, saying it has been providing information on enrollments, and the added requirements would force it to hire new staff.
The House will debate that measure next week.