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W.Va. attorney general criticizes lack of health care answers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is criticizing federal health care officials for refusing to respond to questions over a plan to hire workers to help walk people through their health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.

Morrisey and a dozen other state attorneys general sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month pointing out privacy concerns with the plan to hire navigators to help roll out the health care reforms. They asked for a response by Aug. 28.

Morrisey's office also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the department Aug. 21 seeking information on the program.

Morrisey said Wednesday he was disappointed he hasn't received a response.

"We are very concerned about the risk of identity theft if holes in the policy aren't addressed immediately or if the implementation of health care exchanges isn't delayed to allow for better regulations, more training for consumer outreach programs and better fraud prevention," Morrisey said in a release. "We had sincerely hoped for a response from the Department to at least let us know that they were working to address our concerns."

A department spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Navigators will provide a variety of services to those trying to choose an insurance plan under the new exchanges -- online marketplaces to purchase health insurance. Exchanges are scheduled to begin enrolling applicants Oct. 1. The navigators could have access to a variety of personal information, including Social Security numbers and tax documents.

Morrisey and other attorneys general argued that the rules fail to ensure that navigators will be adequately trained to protect private information, nor do they make clear who is responsible if an identity theft occurs.

Federal health officials have said applicant information is not stored in a database, but is instead transferred instantaneously through a secure hub. Similar counselors have helped those applying for Medicare for years.

Navigators must complete at least 20 hours of training, which includes instruction on privacy and security, and pass an exam to be certified. They will be subject to federal criminal penalties for violations of privacy or fraud laws.

Morrisey said he's concerned that the navigators are not required to undergo criminal background checks. Some local groups that have been selected to serve as navigators have said they would require background checks, though.

But Morrisey says many questions remain.

"The clock is ticking; failing to release such basic information less than one month before open enrollment begins is grossly irresponsible," he said.


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