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Think NSA Spying is Bad? Here Comes ObamaCare Hub

Jun 26, 2013 Issues: Health

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By John Merline

Published in Investor’s Business Daily

June 25, 2013

The Health and Human Services Department earlier this year exposed just how vast the government's data collection efforts will be on millions of Americans as a result of ObamaCare.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., asked HHS to provide "a complete list of agencies that will interact with the Federal Data Services Hub." The Hub is a central feature of ObamaCare, since it will be used by the new insurance exchanges to determine eligibility for benefits, exemptions from the federal mandate, and how much to grant in federal insurance subsidies.

In response, the HHS said the ObamaCare data hub will "interact" with seven other federal agencies: Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration, Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Defense and — believe it or not — the Peace Corps. Plus the Hub will plug into state Medicaid databases.

And what sort of data will be "routed through" the Hub? Social Security numbers, income, family size, citizenship and immigration status, incarceration status, and enrollment status in other health plans, according to the HHS.

"The federal government is planning to quietly enact what could be the largest consolidation of personal data in the history of the republic," noted Stephen Parente, a University of Minnesota finance professor.

Not to worry, says the Obama administration. "The hub will not store consumer information, but will securely transmit data between state and federal systems to verify consumer application information," it claimed in an online fact sheet .

But a regulatory notice filed by the administration in February tells a different story.

That filing describes a new "system of records" that will store names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, taxpayer status, gender, ethnicity, email addresses, telephone numbers on the millions of people expected to apply for coverage at the ObamaCare exchanges, as well as "tax return information from the IRS, income information from the Social Security Administration, and financial information from other third-party sources."

They will also store data from businesses buying coverage through an exchange, including a "list of qualified employees and their tax ID numbers," and keep it all on file for 10 years.

In addition, the filing says the federal government can disclose this information "without the consent of the individual" to a wide range of people, including "agency contractors, consultants, or grantees" who "need to have access to the records" to help run ObamaCare, as well as law enforcement officials to "investigate potential fraud."

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., complained that just months before ObamaCare officially starts, the Obama administration still hasn't answered "even the most basic questions about the Data Hub," such as who will have access to what information, or what training and clearances will be required.

Beyond these concerns is the government's rather sorry record in protecting confidential information.

Late last year, for example, a hacker was able to gain access to a South Carolina database that contained Social Security numbers and bank account data on 3.6 million people.

Government Accountability Office report found that weaknesses in IRS security systems "continue to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the financial and sensitive taxpayer information."

separate inspector general audit found that the IRS inadvertently disclosed information on thousands of taxpayers between 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the Social Security Administration accidentally released names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of Americans.

If these government agencies can't protect data kept on their own servers, how much more vulnerable will these databases be when they're constantly getting tapped by the ObamaCare Data Hub?

In any case, creating even richer and more comprehensive databases on Americans will create a powerful incentive to abuse them among those looking to score political points by revealing private information or criminals who want to steal identities.

A recent CNN poll found that 62% of Americans say "government is so large and powerful that it threatens the rights and freedoms of ordinary Americans."

What will the public think once ObamaCare and its vast data machine is in full force?

Click here to read the editorial on Investors.com

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Congressman Black represents Tennessee's Sixth Congressional District, is a registered nurse and serves on the House Budget Committee and Ways and Means Committee