Rick Scott, Cabinet: Privacy at Stake in Federal Health Program
Around the State
Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet envision that unscrupulous individuals seeking personal information could find jobs helping enroll people in a new federal health program unless proper background checks are in place.
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act counter that concerns raised by the state officials are intended simply to score political points, scare people away from enrolling and further delay implementation of the law.
Scott said the federal government needs to provide assurances that proper background checks will be in place in hiring the "navigators" and their assistants, who are expected to help people through the paperwork in signing up for health coverage.
"Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate," Scott said. "It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused."
The statewide officials, who have long criticized the health law known as Obamacare, said they want the federal government to ensure that the people hired are properly vetted, as enrollment is expected to begin in six weeks. The navigators will help enroll people through new health-insurance exchanges, a type of online marketplace that is a key part of carrying out the law.
Leah Barber-Heinz, spokeswoman for Florida CHAIN, a patient-advocacy group, called the claims by Scott and the Cabinet members another "outrageous" attack on the federal program.
"They're trying to scare people away, trying to distract from the important work of implementation in Florida," Barber-Heinz said.
Joshua Karp, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, asserted that Scott's "latest attack on Obamacare smacks of desperation."
"It is deeply disappointing that Rick Scott and other Republicans are trying to score political points, rather than help provide access to health care for hundreds of thousands of Floridians who lack it," Karp said in an email.
State legislators during the 2013 session approved a health law (SB 1842) that requires navigators hired in Florida to be registered with the state, be U.S. citizens or legal aliens and undergo background checks by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, in delivering a presentation to the Cabinet, said it remains unknown if the federal government will bar the state from enforcing the law.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said that since the state law designates navigators, it is also unknown if the state could use its law to require other positions -- described as assistants and counselors by the federal government -- to undergo similar background scrutiny.
And Scott said that even if the state is allowed to enforce its law, that still doesn't ensure that sensitive personal information won't end up being shared throughout the federal government.
"They're going to have access to your tax information, your personal information, your Social Security information," added Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi is one of 13 Republican state attorneys general who last week requested that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius address various aspects of the navigator program.
The attorneys general want Sebelius to respond by Aug. 28 to questions about the privacy of individual records and the need for more-stringent background checks on those hired for the navigator program.
Bondi said the attorneys general also need to know who will oversee the navigators and who will be responsible if any individual's information is stolen.
"All we're asking from the secretary of HHS is to give us assurances that they will be properly trained," Bondi said. "I don't want a convicted felon having our citizens' personal information. So we need to know how they're going to be trained."
The federal government has allocated $67 million to train people nationwide for the navigator program.
Florida CHAIN has received $125,000 to conduct enrollment fairs throughout the state to help the uninsured enroll.
Another $4.2 million grant has been given for the University of South Florida's Florida Covering Kids and Families program at the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center to provide in-person assistance with the health-insurance marketplace.
However, with the program set to be in place by Oct. 1, the federal government has cut proposed training of the new employees from 30 hours to 20 hours.
The federal government is running the exchange in Florida. The Republican-dominated stateLlegislature declined to implement a state exchange.