By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have set their sights on another aspect of the health care reform law: the people hired by the federal government to help uninsured Floridians sign up for health insurance in the newly formed health care exchanges.
Scott and Bondi are among the most vocal opponents of the health care reform law. Scott, a former hospital chain executive, began his political career fighting the health care reform law in 2009. Bondi led Florida’s legal fight aiming to block the law. However, Bondi and the state of Florida lost the fight once the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenged that claimed the law is unconstitutional.
State lawmakers have also done all in their power to do as little as possible to implement the law.
The Florida Legislature has turned away health grants for the state allocated by the health care law. Legislators have turned down millions of dollars meant to pay for the expansion of Medicaid to more than a million Floridians who currently cannot afford health insurance.
The state of Florida also decided to not create its own health insurance market, which is mandated by the law. The market is aimed at making insurance more competitive and accessible. However, because the state refused to create its own exchanges, the federal government stepped in and created one for the state.
Now that the feds are ready to launch the program they created with the help of state officials, Scott and Bondi are picking a fight over how the federal government is carrying out the program.
The Hill reports their main gripe is about privacy issues:
Bondi said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is making it easier for someone to be hired as a so-called navigator, cutting back on background checks and eliminating a fingerprinting requirement, which could make it easier for a person’s private information to fall into the wrong hands.
“Because of time constraints, HHS [is] cutting back on the requirement to become a navigator, meaning they’re not going to be doing background checks. They’re not going to be fingerprinting these people,” said Bondi in an interview with Fox.
“And it’s more than navigators. It’s people that assist the navigators. Now, these navigators will have our consumers throughout the country’s most personal and private information: tax return information, Social Security information. And our biggest fear, of course, is identity theft.”
… “What if they’ve been convicted of committing identity theft or grand theft before?” asked Bondi. “They could potentially still become a navigator.”
According to The Orlando Sentinel, the feds have hired more than 100 people to be navigators through a $7.8 million grant to Florida from U.S. Health and Human Services:
“Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate,” said Scott during a Cabinet meeting in Miami. “It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused.”
The Cabinet got a short briefing from Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who said it was unclear what kinds of safeguards were in place to protect sensitive information Navigators would be collecting.
The position is yet another example of Scott preparing to pivot for re-election. While he was always a critic of the health-care law, last spring he spurned conservative tea partiers in his base by embracing the federal expansion of the Medicaid program that is a part of ObamaCare.
Even though Scott has embraced expanding Medicaid, the governor has done little to get state lawmakers on board. Right now, the Florida Legislature has been standing in the way of Medicaid expansion in the state.
According to Reuters, federal officials have been quick to debunk claims about privacy from Florida officials:
The Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman responded to Scott’s comments, noting that HHS has run in-person assistance programs for years to help Americans enroll in Medicare and Medicaid.
“Contrary to Gov. Scott’s statements, consumers will never be asked to provide their personal health information to the marketplace, whether through a navigator or not,” said spokeswoman Joanne Peters. “There is no such database of American’s health information, and multiple independent fact checkers have debunked this claim.”
The health insurance exchange program in Florida kicks in October 1.