AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued the following statement after joining a coalition of state attorneys general who wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing concerns about Obamacare’s impending “navigator” program:
“Over the next few weeks, the Obama administration plans to dole out millions of taxpayer dollars to so-called ‘navigators’ who will be paid to help Americans navigate the Obamacare behemoth. Because these navigators will be granted substantial access to Americans’ personal information – including their Social Security numbers and tax information – I am deeply concerned about privacy and the security of this very sensitive information. To make matters worse, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ privacy rules that will govern these navigators are weak, lack clarity and fail to impose the accountability necessary to protect Texans’ privacy rights.”
In their letter, the state attorneys general identified and raised specific concerns about deficiencies in Obamacare’s “navigator” program. The states’ concerns included the following:
• Screening personnel. HHS’ rules do not plan to require uniform background or fingerprint checks for navigators. As a result, the rules do not adequately protect Texans by ensuring that convicted criminals or identity thieves will be prohibited from becoming navigators.
• Training and guidance for program personnel. HHS recently announced it may require navigators to complete only 20 hours of online courses before they start enrolling new Obamacare participants. Given the navigators’ access to Texans’ personal information, the attorneys general call upon HHS to identify the specific laws and standards that will govern the navigators’ use of Americans’ private information. Further, the attorneys general asked HHS to detail how it will ensure that navigators actually comply with all applicable privacy laws.
• Supplemental state regulation. Calling HHS’ substandard safeguards “a privacy disaster waiting to happen,” the attorneys general express support for state-based navigator certification or licensure requirements – such as those imposed by the Texas Legislature with the enactment of SB 1795 during the 2013 legislative session. The attorneys general also asked how HHS plans to prevent fraud and identity theft within navigator programs and whether HHS will provide help or relief to Americans who suffer identity theft or fraud due to a navigator’s misuse of individuals’ personal information.
In addition to expressing concerns about privacy issues raised with Obamacare’s navigator program, Attorney General Abbott reminded navigators that they must comply with Texas’s existing identity theft prevention statutes.