Health Care

Obamacare exchanges a medical privacy disaster

Americans were told that we would find out the fine points of Obamacare after it passed. Well, add another horror lurking in the details.

When individuals sign up for federal insurance exchanges, they enter their personal information into a new Federal Data Hub. This program then collects medical records, Social Security numbers, tax information, and bank account data, by coordinating with the relevant federal departments, to determine the individual’s eligibility for an insurance subsidy.

icon_op_edIn other words, this data hub will know everything about the individual signing up. Collecting this information in a centralized database to be analyzed by the government is disturbing enough. But it is even more scary knowing who can retrieve this information.

Obamacare requires federal insurance exchanges to appoint “navigators.” According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), these organizations and groups, funded through federal grants, help customers navigate the federal insurance exchanges by providing “fair, accurate, and impartial information to consumers.” The individual navigators will have access to all of the personal information in the Federal Data Hub, but for some reason HHS doesn’t even require them to have background checks.

Colorado chose to set up its own state health insurance exchange. The Colorado regulations require that navigators have “a criminal background check and are free of conviction of financial crimes, crimes against children or vulnerable adults, and violent offenses.” Coloradans will not rest easy knowing that drug dealers, burglars, most sex offenders and some identity thieves may have access to our most sensitive personal information.

The federal government knows well the danger of entrusting sensitive information to federally contracted employees. Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked significant national security information to the press, underwent two thorough background checks for his CIA and NSA employment. If employee screening by these agencies cannot catch those who hope to expose secret data, why should anyone trust a navigator with a limited background check?

Of course, HHS officials promise that personal information will be secure. But HHS cannot vouch for each and every navigator who views sensitive personal data in the hub. The Federal Data Hub is a privacy disaster waiting to happen, drawing from databases of seven different U.S. agencies, including the Department of Justice and the IRS. In addition to security flaws, the navigators receive only 20 to 30 hours of online training before they’re expected to help consumers understand the complexities of Obama- care’s insurance exchanges.

Projects like the Federal Data Hub are dangerous to civil liberties because they place too much personal information into the hands of individuals working on behalf of the federal government. And with the recent scandals like the IRS’s unfair scrutiny of conservative political groups and the Justice Department’s flawed Fast and Furious program, the public knows all too well that the federal government can easily abuse its power.

To prevent violations of personal privacy and abuse of federal power, Health and Human Services must cease development of the Federal Data Hub or eliminate navigators and similar counselors with no screening and extensive access to sensitive information.

The Federal Data Hub and navigators make just one more link in the ball and chain that is Obamacare. While hard-working Americans fear the arrival of Obamacare provisions that will increase insurance costs, the navigator program affects more than just our pocketbooks. It is an unjustified invasion of our privacy by potentially unscrupulous individuals. Now that we know what’s in the law, it’s time to get rid of it.

Ken Buck is Weld County, Colorado district attorney and  former candidate for U.S. Senate.  This op-ed originally appeared in the Denver Post.


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