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Feds say "data hub'' will safeguard consumers' private information

Government officials say they have completed a computerized system that consumers will use to verify their Social Security numbers, U.S. citizenship or immigration status, income levels and other personal information when enrolling for health plans and applying for subsidies on federally-run online insurance exchanges scheduled to debut on Oct. 1.

Known as the Data Services Hub, the system will be used to determine consumers' eligibility for enrollment in health plans sold on the exchanges and for subsidies that will pay for those plans. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the government agency overseeing the development of federally-facilitated health insurance exchanges in the 34 states that will not operate a state-based exchange, including Florida, said on Tuesday that the Data Hub will provide one connection to databases for the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security and other relevant agencies.

Consumers' private data will be secured by a design in the system that does not allow it to retain or store personally identifiable information, according to a CMS news release.

Privacy is a concern for Florida's Republican elected officials, including Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who in August questioned the safety of private information supplied by Floridians to federally funded "navigators" and others who will help consumers enroll in health insurance programs through the online exchanges.

Casting the navigators program as a federal government effort to create a database of personal information with no clear purpose, Scott and members of his Cabinet said they worried that consumers' information could be abused by identity thieves and others.

This week, the Florida Department of Health became the latest state agency to distance itself from  the federal Affordable Care Act by ordering county health units not to allow navigators onto their property to help uninsured people sign up for subsidized health coverage.

C. Meade Grigg, deputy DOH secretary for statewide services, issued the order late Monday to the state's 60 local health department directors.

Florida officials forfeited their chance to regulate navigators when the legislature declined to create a state-based insurance exchange, and instead defaulted to the federal government, which will operate the exchange.

Federal health officials say the Data Hub has several layers of protection to minimize security risks. For instance, the exchanges will use a continuous monitoring model that will identify unauthorized changes and potential misuse.

If a security incident occurs, according to the CMS press release, an "incident response" system will be activated that allows for the tracking, investigation and reporting of unauthorized access or misuse.



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