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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Commentary

Your information, your choice, your protection

Published:

Imagine you are sitting at home watching TV and suddenly the phone rings. You mute the TV and answer the phone.

“Mr. _______?”

“Yes?” you quizzically reply, as it’s always slightly startling when someone knows your name and phone number without you recognizing his voice. The person on the phone is calling to help you sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

You quickly realize that this person has full access to your personal information before you’ve even given him permission — not only does he know your full name, but he also has easy access to your Social Security number, which you have guarded, and your date of birth, financial statements and your mother’s maiden name. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the line didn’t have to go through a background check to be screened for prior criminal history. He just had to be willing to cold-call people.

Are you thinking that this would never happen? Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

To help implement Obamacare, 105 organizations from across the country were awarded a total of $67 million in taxpayer money to serve as navigators to encourage people to sign up for Obamacare. The purpose of the navigator program is to help consumers understand their health insurance coverage options and assist with enrollment by collecting their personal information to load into the Obamacare data hub. The people serving as navigators for consumers can have unsupervised access to consumers’ personal information. This system could easily lead to identity theft of grand proportions. And while I’d like to think that everyone has good intentions, that’s just not always the case.

In Illinois, the Department of Insurance has had to issue public warnings concerning navigator identity theft and fraud. In Tennessee, there have already been reports of a scam. All across America the navigator program is fraught with abuses. It is only a matter of time before those abuses reach Florida.

Florida has the country’s highest per capita rate of reported identity theft-related fraud complaints, with just under 70,000 complaints made in 2012 alone. We need to do all that we can to safeguard personal information.

Ever since Obamacare was first implemented, there have been serious problems, not the least of which is enrolling consumers — whether through a navigator or if you’ve unsuccessfully tried to enroll on Healthcare.gov. Either way, your personal information ends up in the same unsecure data hub where concerns abound regarding the ease of hacking into the system.

Since the president won’t eliminate his signature bill, he at least needs to recognize that we need to address some of its most glaring safety issues.

I introduced a bill that will keep people’s personal information personal and will provide oversight for one major security concern of this problem-prone legislation that is Obamacare.

The Security Before Access Act will require a criminal background and fingerprint check within 60 days of navigator-related activities. It also ensures that the navigator has successfully completed the same or comparable federal and state educational and licensure requirements currently in place for health insurance agents and brokers. If these navigators are advising on health insurance options, they should have the proper credentials. Finally, it allows potential enrollees to opt-out of the insurance mandate until the administration can certify to Congress that your personal information is safeguarded.

In addition, certified application counselors, health insurance navigators, and non-navigator assistance personnel (“navigator personnel”) must obtain the express, written consent of the consumer prior to accessing his or her personally identifiable information.

Lastly, the Security Before Access Act allows consumers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirement to obtain health insurance coverage until the Secretary of Health and Human Services has demonstrated that comprehensive personal identity protections are in place.

While I would love to see the option for everyone to opt out of Obamacare, I think we can all agree that it is more than unreasonable to force people to participate given the tenuous nature of its security system.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents the 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties. Ross serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

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