This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock any more to Hot Air readers, but the gap between deadlines and performance in ObamaCare might still surprise Washington Post readers. Over the weekend, the Post noted “a certain amount of panic” in the medical-provider community over the “scramble” to get ObamaCare exchanges open and ready to service consumers who, er, have little choice but to comply with their mandate, even as businesses and insurers get their own delayed:
With a key deadline approaching, state officials across the country are scrambling to get the Affordable Care Act’s complex computer systems up and running, reviewing contingency plans and, in some places, preparing for delays.
Oct. 1 is the scheduled launch date for the health-care law’s insurance marketplaces — online sites where uninsured people will be able to shop for coverage, sometimes using a government subsidy to purchase a plan. An estimated 7 million people are expected to use these portals to purchase health coverage in 2014.
The task is unprecedented in its complexity, requiring state and federal data systems to transmit reams of information between one another. Some officials in charge of setting up the systems say that the tight deadlines have forced them to take shortcuts when it comes to testing and that some of the bells and whistles will not be ready.
“There’s a certain level of panic about how much needs to be accomplished but a general sense that the bare minimum to get the system functional will be done,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “It will by no means be as smooth and as seamless as people expected.”
What “bells and whistles” won’t be ready for the system that Barack Obama refuses to delay? Well, one bell (or is it a whistle?) will be income verification on claims for calculating subsidies. This part should have been easy; the IRS runs this part of the ACA, and they have had three years to integrate its systems into a national interface with state exchanges. Instead of having a good way to ensure against fraudulent subsidy payouts, we’ll all just be on the honor system next year. What could go wrong?
However, thanks to one of the “shortcuts” (as the Post calls them), fraud will likely be a two-way street. HHS will hire an army of “navigators” who will assist consumers in selecting a health insurance plan that meets their needs — and who will have access to all of the private identity data that government usually insists we keep private. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (no relation*) raises a big red flag on the potential for massive identity theft:
But in its rush to get this taxpayer-funded marketing scheme off the ground, the Administration left consumer privacy behind. Federal regulations governing the program don’t require these groups to do background checks to weed out criminals and would-be identity thieves. Nor do they need to be licensed, bonded, or insured– though they may choose themselves to take these steps or perform background checks
Worse still, although the law passed in 2010, community groups seeking to become navigators received grants 32 business days before the new healthcare exchanges are set to open. 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.
States are scrambling to plug the hole. State attorneys general are charged with protecting our consumers. So together with twelve other state AGs, I’ve asked the Administration for information to better assess how we can protect our constituents from the program’s risk of identity theft. We’re waiting for a response.
Morrisey warns that the risk isn’t hypothetical, and hasn’t been since its passage:
Those who would dismiss these concerns haven’t been paying attention. Identity thieves are already cashing in on Obamacare. 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.
And there’s money in them thar … bills:
Stealing a medical identity is more lucrative than other kinds of identity theft. It’s been reported that a social security number sells for $1 on the black market. 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. Consumers are left facing bogus charges and ruined credit scores. Undoing the damage — if it’s even possible — can require countless hours of frustration and effort.
Who will be most at risk for this kind of theft? Those who have to rely on navigators most. Let’s go back to the Post to see who those people might be:
Officials with the District of Columbia’s Health Link decided to put off building a Spanish version of its Web site until later this year, giving its staff bandwidth to complete other tasks they see more critical to the launch.
Until then, the District will have bilingual call-center workers and in-person helpers who will be able to help Spanish speakers navigate the site.
This is, of course, in the nation’s capital, and the one place where the Obama administration might be expected to showcase any successes, and minimize the pitfalls, in the ACA. They have had three years and seven months to complete the website in both English and Spanish. Instead, they have nearly run out of time in both languages, which means that the Spanish-only consumers will have to trust the navigators more, and increase the risk of identity theft above that of the general population.
Maybe the administration might want to consider una demora in this part of the ACA, too.
* – Patrick is one of the disreputable “one-S” members of the Morrissey clan. We advise you to watch your Guinnesses around him.