- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota has yet to gain approval on its security preparations needed to link the state’s system to federal computers that enroll people for coverage under the new health care law, documents show.

The connection to federal computers requires a security review and approval called an “authority to connect,” known as an ATC. But North Dakota is one of three states - along with Georgia and New Jersey - that have not been approved to connect to the federal data hub that verifies personal details about people applying for government-subsidized insurance. The data includes income, immigration status and Social Security numbers.

Maggie Anderson, director of North Dakota’s Department of Human Services, said the state has submitted plans three times since last fall attempting to get its ATC. The latest plan was submitted Feb. 12. Anderson said Tuesday that the state has not received a reply from federal officials.

Despite lacking the federal clearance, North Dakota’s system is secure, Anderson said.

“It has not put anyone’s data at risk and it did not stop people from getting coverage,” she said.

Documents provided to The Associated Press show that more than two-thirds of state systems that were supposed to tap into federal computers to verify sensitive personal information for coverage were initially rated as “high risk” for security problems.

The Obama administration says the documents offer only a partial and “outdated” snapshot of an improving situation, and the security problems cited were either resolved or are being addressed. No successful cyberattacks have taken place, officials say.

The human services department estimates that about 20,000 low-income North Dakota residents might qualify for Medicaid expansion under the federal health care overhaul. Anderson said that as of this week, the state has received about 4,000 applications.

Dan Sipes, a spokesman for the North Dakota Information Technology Department, and Jenny Witham, who heads the state Human Services’ IT program, would not comment on specific problems the state is having obtaining permission to link into the federal system.

“In general, security plans are confidential,” said Sipes, adding that the state expects to hear from federal authorities “any minute” on its most recent security plan.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield and chairman of the state House’s Human Services Committee, said he did not know the state had not gained permission to link to federal computers.

“I was not aware that we weren’t allowed to hook up, so to speak,” said Weisz, who also chairs the state’s information technology committee. “I know they have their hands full, but it would still be nice to know what’s going on and why.”

Weisz said he intends to list the issue as an agenda item when the House Human Services Committee meets next month.

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Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/macphersonja

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