As the federal government prepares for the Oct. 1 open enrollment period for health exchanges, opponents of the law have come up with a new line of attack: privacy concerns.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded millions of dollars in contracts to organizations that will hire so-called "navigators" to help millions of people sign up for health insurance. In Tampa Thursday, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius personally announced the $67 million in grants, including $7.8 million to eight Florida organizations.
Even before that happened, Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 12 other Republican attorneys general in raising the privacy issue. Their joint letter to Sebelius this week said there aren't enough protections to ensure the personal information the "navigators" collect isn't misused and that applicants for these jobs are properly screened and vetted.
The HHS has said that consumer protections are in place, but Gov. Rick Scott wants more answers. Today, he announced that at the next Cabinet meeting he wants a report from state insurance regulators about these privacy concerns.
Scott opposed health care reform for years but made national headlines in February when he said the state should accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, one of the law's main provisions. The Republican-controlled House blocked that from happening, and Scott's conservative base widely criticized his actions.
Click here to download the attorneys general letter to Sebelius.
Here is the full press release from Scott's office:
Today Governor Rick Scott announced that he has asked the Office of Insurance Regulation to brief the Florida Cabinet on the privacy concerns surrounding the Obama Administration’s use of taxpayer-funded organizers called “navigators” to sign up Floridians on federal health exchanges. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Tampa yesterday to announce $7.8 million in grants for Florida. The “navigator” program has been the subject of privacy concerns because the taxpayer-funded “navigators” will be collecting large amounts of consumer information for use in a federal database.
Governor Rick Scott said, “We know that the ‘navigators’ will be taxpayer-funded employees hired to collect personal and financial information from Floridians. What we do not know is how this information will be shared among federal agencies or if the federal government will also distribute it to outside groups. We know that navigators are not hired to determine eligibility for insurance but they will have Floridians’ personal data that will then be run through federal databases, including the IRS and agencies that track immigration status.
“Many questions remain unanswered, including: who will get the completed applications? Will Floridians know of every entity that receives their information? If the federal exchange is delayed, where will the applications go until it is operable? To ensure we are doing everything possible to protect Floridians’ personal information, we will discuss these issues at the next Florida Cabinet meeting in Miami on August 20. I added this item to the official cabinet agenda today.
“These are very serious matters, and the many questions surrounding this program must be answered quickly.”
Members of the Florida Cabinet include Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.