The Obama administration's "navigator" program, designed to help people enroll in Obamacare, may expose the nation's citizens to identity thieves, warns West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
"In its rush to get this taxpayer-funded marketing scheme off the ground, the administration left consumer privacy behind," the Republican wrote in a column Monday for Forbes.com
Last week, community groups received $67 million dollars to help with Obamacare enrollment efforts
, including the hiring of navigators to guide consumers through the various coverage plans. Morrisey claims the money is going to groups that will have access to addresses, Social Security numbers, and medical information.
"It's the president's gift to some of his grassroots allies," Morrisey said, "and it could be a bonanza for identity thieves."
Morrisey said federal regulations don't require the navigator groups to do background checks to weed out criminals, and they don't need to be licensed, bonded, or insured.
"Worse still, although the law passed in 2010, community groups seeking to become navigators received grants 32 business days before the new health care exchanges are set to open," he continued. "That’s not much time to screen, hire, and train thousands of new workers before they start entering people’s personal information in insurance applications."
The West Virginia official said he and 12 other states' attorneys general have asked the administration to better assess how they can protect people from the program's risk of identity theft. They are still waiting for a response.
"Identity thieves are already cashing in on Obamacare," Morrisey said. "Since 2010, rip-off artists have phoned, emailed, and gone door-to-door preying on consumers interested in the new health law. These phony government representatives resulted in more than 1,100 individual complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in May alone."
According to Morrisey, medical identity theft is more lucrative than any other kind of identity theft.
"It's been reported that a Social Security number sells for $1 on the black market," he said.
"But a person’s address, Social Security number, Medicare number, and medical history may bring in $50 up front, plus thousands more for the con men who use the information to buy prescription drugs and scam the consumer’s insurance company out of payments."
He also noted that there is nothing in the Obamacare guidelines to stop scam artists from pretending to be navigators.
"The rules don’t require navigators to carry badges or show special ID cards," Morrisey added. "Consumers appear to have no official way to know who is a 'real' Obamacare navigator."
Morrisey also wrote that the navigator program is being run like an "honor system" being used to hand out subsidies before checking applicants' insurance status information. He called it one more example of how the Obama administration is taking shortcuts to speed through implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"Here’s one solution: delay the law until the administration can assure Americans that it’s not putting their identities at risk," he said.
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