By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
A confidential training manual for Obamacare navigators that threatens prosecution for unauthorized dissemination is on the Internet for the world to see.
The 217-page manual reads like a primer for Amway or novice car salesmen, offering sales advice on how to disarm potential customers who could be lured into purchasing insurance through exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.
Section headers include “Smile: Maintain a Positive Demeanor,” “Make the Customers Feel Welcome,” “Listen” and — in what must now seem ironic given Barack Obama’s troubles with over-promising — “Build Trust: Be True to Your Word.”
The handbook also delves into the more serious topics of “Identifying Personally Identifiable Information,” “IRS Data Safeguards” and “Preventing Fraud.”
Nothing in the manual seems to rise to the level of a state secret — raising questions about why the federal government felt it necessary to classify information that has no reason to be classified.
“It’s a conditioned reflex aimed at preventing agency embarrassment,” said Chris Farrell, a director with Judicial Watch, a nonprofit aimed at rooting out secret government documents. “The federal government routinely overclassifies documents and withholds information the public is owed.”
Farrell said the most ludicrous example he encountered happened after 9/11.
“An egregious example that comes to mind is the FBI redacting the name of Osama bin Laden from press reports, and then saying they were protecting his privacy,” Farrell said.
The Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t encountered issues as death-defying as the FBI, but still takes its “confidential” information just as seriously. A disclaimer at the bottom of each page of the manual is headlined in bold: “INFORMATION NOT RELEASABLE TO THE PUBLIC UNLESS AUTHORIZED BY LAW.”
“This information has not been publicly disclosed and may be privileged and confidential,” the warning reads. “It is for internal government use only and must not be disseminated, distributed, or copied to persons not authorized to receive the information. Unauthorized disclosure may result in prosecution to the full extent of the law.”
A New Jersey woman who stumbled upon the document was so alarmed that she called the feds to report it. But her concerns fell on deaf ears.
“I immediately sent an email through the White House web site that these documents are on the web for all to see. I got no response,” said Tammy Duffy, a radiation health physicist who was signing up for Obamacare. “I also called the White House yesterday and spoke to a volunteer (and said) these restricted documents are on web. I have heard from no one. I also sent it to a friend who works at the Department of Defense and said, ‘Get this taken down.’ It’s still up there.”
Duffy first learned of the document when she was talking to Obamacare navigators who referred to the manual online because they could not answer her questions regarding coverage for a self-employed person.
“I asked the nice ladies for a copy and they said I could not have it because it was a government document not for the public,” Duffy said. “So I thought maybe there is an outline or shorter version that is for the public. I went to Google and typed in ‘healthcare insurance marketplace navigator SOP.’”
To her surprise, the document popped up. She found other training materials as well.
Labeling the manual “confidential” just makes the feds look silly — something they should be used to, Farrell said.
“They are their own worst enemy,” he added.
Contact Tori Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @newswriter2
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