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The Department of Health and Human Services' “navigator” program may pose a threat to individuals' privacy, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and thirteen state attorneys general recently said.
The navigator program, created under the Affordable Care Act, will provide “unbiased information” about insurance options that will be available in the federally facilitated marketplaces and state partnership marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1, HHS said in an Aug. 15 statement.
HHS announced that it awarded $67 million in grants to 105 “navigator” organizations that will help people shop for and enroll in health insurance plans in online marketplaces being set up by the federal government.
But the House Energy and Commerce Committee Aug. 15 issued a statement citing potential privacy and security issues in the navigator program.
To help people sign up for coverage, “Americans will detail their very personal health and financial information to these individuals,” the committee said. “The sheer volume of personal information collected by navigators raises serious privacy concerns.”
“Meanwhile the security of the data hubs where all of this personal health and financial information will be stored will not be known one day before open enrollment,” the committee added.
House lawmakers were not the only federal lawmakers to express such concerns with the program. In a June 20 letter to HHS, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) criticized the lack of privacy standards governing navigators (12 PVLR 1109, 6/24/13).
Thirteen attorneys general Aug. 14 wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding data privacy risks they said are posed by ACA programs assisting consumers with enrolling in the marketplaces.
“When the exchanges begin enrollment, various 'navigator,' assister, application counselor, and other consumer outreach programs will begin inputting consumers' private data into insurance applications to help consumers enroll in health insurance plans,” the AGs said. “We take very seriously the privacy of our states' consumers and believe that your agency's current guidance regarding these groups suffers numerous deficiencies.”
Concerns cited by the AGs included inadequate training and “substandard” consumer safeguards. AGs from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia signed the letter.
“We are absolutely focused on privacy and security standards at the department and at the CMS level, working very hard on a variety of ways to make sure that the systems are secure … and making sure that people who are certified to help people through the process are well trained and able to help people get coverage,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director of policy and regulation in HHS's Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said on a telephone press call.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it is “committed to ensuring consumer privacy” in a final rule published July 17 that addresses requirements for navigators and other consumer aides who will assist people applying for health coverage on exchanges (12 PVLR 1277, 7/22/13).
The letter from the 13 AGs to Sebelius is available at http://www.wvago.gov/pdf/Letter%20to%20HHS%20re%20Data%20Privacy_%28final%208%2014%2013%29.pdf.
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