Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet, meeting in Miami Tuesday, 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 online exchanges scheduled to launch Oct. 1.
Casting the navigators program as a federal government effort to create a database of personal information with no clear purpose, Scott and Cabinet members including Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said they worried that the information could be abused by identity thieves and others.
“My concern is that we have no control over how the data’s going to be used,’’ Scott said after the meeting at Miami Dade College. “You should know if they’re going to have your information, how it’s going to be used, when they’re going to use it, what agencies are going to have it.”
“This is a consumer protection issue. This is an identity theft issue,” said Bondi, who sent a letter on Aug. 14 along with 12 other state attorneys general asking Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the privacy concerns. They asked for a response by Aug. 28.
But U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston), who chairs the Democratic National Committee, slammed the state’s Republican leadership for declining the chance to develop Florida’s own healthcare exchanges — including the navigator program — and instead opposing the Affordable Care Act at every turn.
Because Florida legislators declined to operate a state insurance exchange, and instead defaulted to the federal government, HHS will run the exchanges.
“They certainly had the opportunity — and forfeited the opportunity — to completely control and run our own state exchange, in which they could have set in place the parameters for those navigators,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Forgive me if I don’t trust that their concern is genuine when these are the primary opponents of healthcare reform.’’
HHS officials said the information transmitted with a health insurance application will not be stored on a data hub. Rather, it will be part of secure, instantaneous data transfers. They said navigators will be required to comply with privacy and security standards, and will never obtain information without consumers’ consent.
Additionally, HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters noted that the navigators program has precedent in existing government healthcare programs.
“HHS has run in-person assistance programs for years to help Americans enroll in Medicare and Medicaid,’’ she said.
Navigators, as well as assisters and counselors, are workers who will educate consumers about new health insurance options and walk them through the enrollment process, though they will not be allowed to sell insurance policies or steer consumers to specific plans.
In many cases, navigators likely will be helping individuals who are buying health insurance for the first time, or who are not proficient in English.
According to HHS, navigators will sit with consumers and help them fill out the online application, or do it for them. They will not collect personal information on paper forms.
Once the online application has been filled out, the navigator will not be able go back and retrieve it.