By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE – How secure are Floridians’ health and financial information in the wake of Obamacare?
That was the top concern for elected officials who met in Miami on Tuesday to discuss the seemingly lax federal oversight for the so-called Affordable Care Act’s “navigator” program, an initiative created to help people enroll in the new state health insurance exchange.
According to the governor, attorney general and chief financial officer, last minute rule changes made by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are putting Floridians’ most personal information at risk.
Initially, navigators were limited in the scope of their work to public education, raising awareness, distributing impartial information and facilitating enrollment. Now, they will be collecting consumers’ private data.
“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,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement prior to Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
HHS has also reduced navigator training to 20 hours, scrapped fingerprinting and background checks and expanded the program’s sign-up efforts to include assistants, application counselors and other outreach programs.
“This is mission creep in the worst form with absolutely no destination in sight,” said state chief financial officer Jeff Atwater during Tuesday’s meeting.
Atwater’s Department of Financial Services is responsible for overseeing the navigators, though the 11th hour changes seem to have undermined existing state safeguards. Open enrollment for the exchange begins Oct. 1, or in just 29 business days.
Critics of the governor and his cabinet, all Republicans, are quick to point out the administration’s ongoing opposition to the federal health care law. Any attempts to restrain the navigator program must be weighed against suppressing participation in the insurance exchange.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida is the top state in the country for identity theft, a fact not lost on Attorney General Pam Bondi who simply asked of the navigators Tuesday, “Who are these people?”
Earlier this year state lawmakers determined they would need to show proof of federal training (more extensive at the time), clearance of a law enforcement background check and documentation of citizenship or legal alien status.
But that seems to be off the table.
“Before, navigators would have to be registered. You could not be a navigator in the state of Florida unless you came to us,” Atwater said. “Can we apply our law to what HHS rulemaking has created out of thin air?”
Bondi reiterated the gist of a letter she and 12 other state attorneys general sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Aug. 14, a day before Sebelius announced a $7.8 million navigator grant in Tampa.
“It is inevitable that HHS’s vague ‘standards’ will result in improperly screened or inadequately trained personnel. These individuals will be more prone to misappropriate, accidentally or intentionally, the private data of consumers,” the letter said.
The letter requested Sebelius respond by Aug. 28. She has yet to do so.
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