'Spy-care'? Privacy Concerns Surround Health Law

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WASHINGTON -- In less than a month, the president's health care plan launches initiatives that are supposed to allow Americans seeking coverage to comparatively shop health insurance plans.

But some Americans are concerned that this next phase of Obamacare could pose risks well beyond a person's health.

While conservative lawmakers threaten to shut down the government over defunding Obamacare, one aspect of the law appears to pose a potential threat to people's privacy.

"I think there's a lot of concern around just how the government generally safeguards information," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, told CBN News.

For Obamacare to work, the government set up the federal information hub, designed to help see if people who enroll in Obamacare qualify for extra payments from the government.

The information hub will pool peoples' personal information from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, and other agencies storing data about Americans' income, employment, and tax returns.

It has been described as the "largest consolidation of personal information in history."

But the Obama administration is seeking to assure Americans they have nothing to worry about.

"I also want to assure... all Americans that when they fill out their marketplace applications, they can trust that the information they're providing is protected through the highest privacy standards and the technology underlying this application process has been tested and is secure," Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said.

But that pledge has been called into question.

A recent Health and Human Services audit reported that the administration cannot verify whether the system can protect their information from computer hackers or cyber-attacks and probably won't be able to make it safe before the health exchanges launch on Oct. 1 -- and maybe not even then.

What's more, the system can also include even more personal information that people provide when they sign up for plans, like how big their family is or how old family members are.

Gottlieb, a physician and former official with the Food and Drug Administration, worries that information could get into the wrong hands.

"This month, the Obama administration announced federal and state partners who will help people apply for insurance plans," Gottlieb told CBN News. "They're called 'navigators' and their personal assistance comes with a hefty price tag -- $67 million in grant money."

With so much access to personal information, Gottlieb believes the navigators pose an even bigger problem of potential fraud and abuse.

"There's not a lot of requirements for background checks or minimum standards on education training," Gottlieb told CBN News. "In fact, they're actually passed their deadline for the training that they promised they were going to do."

Critics of Obamacare described the program as the healthcare law's version of the National Security Agency.

Given the steady drop of security problems by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, it makes Gottlieb nervous.

"It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that the hub, the portal, won't be accessible to a lot of people within these federal agencies," Gottlieb said. "And the fact that the administration is taking steps to exempt itself from statute, from law like the Privacy Act, just means there's going to be fewer safeguards."

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John Jessup

John Jessup

CBN News Anchor

John Jessup serves as the main news anchor for CBN, a position he assumed after 10 years reporting for the network in Washington, D.C. His work in broadcast news has earned him several awards in reporting, producing, and coordinating elections coverage. Follow John on Twitter @JohnCBNNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/John.V.Jessup.