Every day that Obamacare remains in place is like another block being taken out of a Jenga tower; we’re just one turn away from a total collapse.
We already know that, thanks to the law, health care premiums are rising. Jobs are being lost. And the quality of health care itself will decline. But it’s only a matter of time before the law causes another crisis: a national breach of individual privacy.
Fears of data breaches are real; the health and financial information of millions of Americans are housed in a massive federal government database called the “Data Hub.” That database will provide information to each state’s health care exchange, where individuals and small businesses are expected to purchase insurance plans online.
But even though the state-based exchanges are operating at various levels of functionality, there’s already been a disturbing security breach.
In September an employee of MNsure, the Minnesota Obamacare health insurance exchange, sent the email addresses, Social Security numbers, and other identifying information of hundreds insurance brokers to another agent.
It appears that the MNsure data breach was accidental and that there was no malicious intent. But however innocent, the public needs to understand that risk of privacy failures is just more one reason to repeal Obamacare.
In this digital age, there will always be the risk of data breaches. But the idea that the government isn’t taking, at a minimum, the same steps that a Fortune 500 company would take to secure sensitive personal information should cause alarm no matter one’s political ideology.
Unfortunately, that’s what a government audit of the Hub recently found. Security controls necessary to protect people’s confidentiality have not been met.
Not only has the U.S. Inspector General failed to independently verify the testing, the recent security breach in Minnesota confirms a more disturbing problem.
Michael Astrue, a former general counsel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and former Social Security Commissioner, has called on
Testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, Astrue pointed out that there are many deficient areas that the Inspector General has overlooked: “He ignored the privacy issues, the security issues, and the issues associated with poorly screened and trained contractors. He did not assess usability, performance measures, governance or contingency plans. With HHS’s expanded role in health care, Americans need an Inspector General who is a watchdog, not a lapdog.”
The apparent lack of administration self-policing protocols leaves one wondering: How difficult it would be for hackers and criminals to cause serious damage?
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) presciently wrote that: “The electronic information revolution is transforming the recording of health information so that the disclosure of information may require only a push of a button. In a matter of seconds, a person’s most profoundly private information can be shared with hundreds, thousands, even millions of individuals and organizations at a time.” Little did we know back then that the federal government would be catapulting the nation into this very scenario.
Compromised health and financial privacy has the potential to impact all of us. It threatens to impact patients’ reputations, the likelihood that we would avoid or delay treatment for embarrassing ailments, and it can lead to fraud – imposing enormous costs on those of us whose identities have been stolen.
Government assurances that the Obamacare health exchange Data Hub is “secure” are belied by the facts. The Obamacare health insurance exchange is a massive security breach waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, the interests of the American people have taken a back seat to other ones. Michael Astrue concluded his congressional testimony by saying: “President Obama has delayed other parts of the Affordable Care Act. Vulnerable Americans without lobbyists deserve the same respect and deference given to the business community. You should support a moratorium on the exchanges until HHS secrecy ends, and until we know whether uninsured Americans, will be forced to pay—along with their premiums—the high price of their privacy.”
The Jenga tower is collapsing. Americans should continue to insist that Congress delay, if not repeal, Obamacare. The law will not only fail to deliver on the important goals of health care access and affordability, but it threatens to run roughshod over Americans’ most personal financial and health information.
Naomi Lopez Bauman is director of health policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.