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Privacy is the loser in the rush to implement Obamacare

Comedian Al Franken came to the Senate via a shambolic election. The newly elected Minnesota Senator then cast the deciding vote for shambolic health care reform legislation. So I guess it’s only fitting that the Minnesota health care exchanges (“MNsure”) are in shambles.

John wrote about MNsure here (“Minnesota Uses Tax Dollars to Sell Obamacare”) and here (“What Does Obamacare Have Against Indians”).

Watchdog.org suggests that MNsure should be rebranded MN-UNsure, “given the embarrassing blunders revealed in the rush to implement” Obamacare. The selection of navigators is a source of mischief and embarrassment all over the country, and Minnesota is no exception. MNsure has controversially selected Planned Parenthood—Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. It has also selected a businessman who copped a plea after waving a shotgun at a deputy sheriff who stopped him for erratic driving. And the State legislature is looking into claims that MNsure hasn’t awarded grants to African-Americans.

But the biggest scandal occurred last month when the state’s customer-service network was compromised before even going online in October, due to a security breach involving the Social Security numbers and other private data for 2,400 insurance brokers. Watchdog.org reported:

State health exchange officials confirmed a MNsure employee Sept. 12 mistakenly hit the send button on an email to a suburban Twin Cities insurance agent signing up to become a “navigator” to help enroll potential clients for coverage.

“The collection of social security numbers is standard practice in order to enable the recording of continuing education (CE) credits,” MNsure said in a statement.

The recipient, Jim Koester of Apple Valley, was stunned to open an attachment with hundreds of Social Security numbers, names, license information and businesses. The security breach was discovered and deleted from Koester’s computer with the help of a state technology expert. The expert helped the insurance agent “navigate” the MNsure system in a much different way than first anticipated.

“The more I thought about it, the more troubled I was,” Koester told the newspaper. “What if this had fallen into the wrong hands? It’s scary. If this is happening now, how can clients of MNsure be confident their data is safe?”

MNsure says that the disclosure of social security numbers “appears” to have been “accidental.” But the risk of such disclosure is inherent in Obamacare.

Indeed, Stephen Parente — Minnesota Insurance Industry Chair of Health Finance in the Carlson School of Management — warned the U.S. House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies of the dangers involved in “the largest personal data integration government project in the history of the Republic, with up to 300 million American citizen records needing to be combined from five federal agencies.”

Parente told the subcommittee that “no one has said how the data hub will actually operate to ensure no privacy breaches as well as safeguard against identity fraud.” He also testified that Obamacare’s “posted deadlines should take second place to reasonable data concerns.”

Unfortunately, neither privacy concerns nor the prospect of a partial government shutdown has been enough to cause the Obama administration to delay implementation of the individual mandate. Call it Al Franken’s joke on the people of Minnesota and the nation as a whole.

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