S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson believes the health insurance system set up by the Affordable Care Act is a security nightmare.
Wilson, speaking for several state attorneys general at a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, said those concerns include the data hub that will connect various federal agencies as well as the local groups tasked with helping people sign up for health insurance starting Oct. 1.
Wilson asked Congress to "suspend implementation of the Affordable Care Act until security risks are mitigated; privacy protections are provided; and legally mandated deadlines are properly met." Wilson's points reiterated those he and 12 other Republican state attorneys general made a month ago in a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
S.C. state Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat, provided a different viewpoint. "What we're looking for is solutions, not road blocks," Hutto said.
State officials from Kansas, Louisiana and Florida also spoke at the hearing.
The data hub, which will share insurance policy purchasers' personal identification information with seven federal agencies, recently passed federal security standards, but Wilson said it hasn't been tested or audited. He pointed out that personal information similar to what will be in the insurance data has been stolen in recent years from the Veterans' Administration and from the S.C. Department of Revenue.
Wilson said he was even more concerned about the Navigator system, in which groups were given $67 million in grants nationally to help people sign up for the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Those groups aren't required to conduct background checks on their employees and had to train them in less than a month.
The three Navigator grant groups in South Carolina say they have performed background checks on their employees.
The federal government has run in-person assistance programs for years to help Americans enroll in Medicare and Medicaid. "The Navigators will be one more resource for Americans to learn about their health insurance options, enroll in the Marketplaces, and find the plan that is best for themselves and their families," according to Lee Millman, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "All navigators will be required to comply with privacy and security standards, and they will never obtain information without the consumer's consent."
The Navigator groups will set up at a places ranging from community centers to businesses to hospitals, offering free assistance for people signing up for health insurance, which will be required for nearly everyone starting in 2014. In many cases, the workers will simply guide people through online forms, asking the people to type in their own personal information.
Andy Foland, vice president of DECO Recovery, one of the Navigator grant groups, said the workers will go wherever potential insurance customers are. He said they might borrow marketing strategies from the Girl Scouts and set up tables outside grocery stores.
In his testimony Wednesday, Wilson riffed off that analogy. "The fact is -- it is more difficult to help Girl Scouts sell boxes of cookies than it is to become a health care Navigator," Wilson said. "While groups like the Girl Scouts require employees to complete background checks, there are no such requirements for Navigators. ... The only requirement for Navigators is that they complete 20 hours of online training, less than most states require for a driver's license."
Various senior advocacy groups have helped seniors sign up for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D programs for years. Those programs, like the new Health Insurance Marketplace, require personal information to be entered into computer forms.
"Why would Navigators be any less safe?," said Sue Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center. "The Cooperative Ministries (another of the Navigator groups) will be doing criminal back ground checks, and nothing will be given to the Navigators, all info is put directly into the Marketplace by the consumer." ___
[Image of data security from BigStock.]