- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thirteen Republican state attorneys general on Wednesday raised privacy concerns about the federal health care law’s in-person assistance programs.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the attorneys general said regulations on “navigators” and other assistance personnel are too vague, lack adequate privacy controls and could open the door to misuse of personal data.

“We take very seriously the privacy of our states’ consumers and believe that your agency’s current guidance regarding these groups suffers numbers deficiencies,” wrote the attorneys general, led by West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey.

Attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas signed the letter.

Their complaint adds a link to the chain of Republicans’ concerns about how the Affordable Care Act will affect Americans this fall, when state-based insurance markets start to enroll uninsured people for coverage that takes effect in January.

The letter also comes on the heels of a Republican-led vote in the House to divorce the Internal Revenue Service from enforcement of the health care law, citing privacy and data-security concerns after an inspector general report found that the agency used inappropriate criteria to vet political groups.

The attorneys general said time is of the essence because the health care exchanges are to begin enrollment Oct. 1.

The Obama administration is trying to parry complaints about the law’s implementation, including a recently reported delay to limits on out-of-pocket medical expenses, by pointing to Republicans’ unrelenting efforts to dismantle the law.

“The point is it’s a little hard to take their criticism seriously considering their opposition to the law in the first place,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “I was telling some of my colleagues earlier this is akin to Alex Rodriguez complaining that the drug-testing program that Major League Baseball has in place isn’t sufficiently strict.”

The attorneys general said in-person assisters will help the uninsured determine their eligibility for tax credits through the markets, “yet many programs have not received their grants and thus have not started preparations.”

“To make matters worse, HHS recently announced that it may cut back on its previously announced and already scant training requirements due to time constraints,” they said.

“This is exactly the wrong response,” they said. “HHS must take action to ensure that thorough and specific safeguards are put in place to protect the confidentiality of consumers’ data before enrollment begins.”

Early adopters of the law, such as the District of Columbia, say they have built-in safeguards such fingerprinting and criminal backgrounds checks to select trustworthy organizations.

On Wednesday, the city announced $4.6 million in federal grants to nearly three dozen organizations charged with promoting Obamacare in the nation’s capital and connecting qualified residents with health care benefits.

“They will have access to personal information like your Social Security information, your income information, so one critical way we can make sure that we’re getting the best possible assisters is to ensure that we do criminal background checks,” said Mila Kofman, executive director of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange.

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