Lawyers question health care workers’ training
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and 12 other Republican state lawyers-in-chief are raising concerns about the training of Obamacare "navigators," suggesting the employees hired to enroll patients in health insurance programs aren't properly trained to protect sensitive personal information.
But Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, said the attorneys general are only trying to scare people away from signing up for the health insurance exchanges.
Enrollment for the exchanges, known in West Virginia as the "health insurance marketplace," is set to open in October.
Created as part of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, the marketplace is meant to be a central website where individual consumers and small businesses can shop for health insurance.
The West Virginia Insurance Commission estimates between 37,000 and 60,000 people will seek coverage through the state's exchange. Anyone can access the site, but the federal government also is hiring "navigators" to help guide people through the process.
Last week, Morrisey and attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas and eight other states sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying the navigators will not have adequate training to protect individuals' personal information.
The letter says that while HHS rules for the exchanges promise to protect data, the rules "lack clarity." The rules do not provide for screening or background checks for the navigators, or ways to prevent businesses or individuals from misrepresenting themselves as navigators in order to defraud consumers, the letter states.
"It is not enough to simply adopt vague policies against fraud," Morrisey said in a prepared statement. "We are very concerned about the risk of identity theft if those holes aren't addressed immediately or if the implementation of health care exchanges isn't delayed to allow for better regulations."
Bryant said the rules for navigators include "significant safeguards," however.
"It really struck me, people who are opposed to the Affordable Act want to throw as much spaghetti against the wall as they can to see what sticks," Bryant said. "Those are pretty serious allegations, and I think they were designed to discourage people from signing up.
Lorraine Ryan, spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said navigators would receive 20 to 30 hours of online training, which will include "strict security and privacy standards" among other topics.
Ryan said any navigators found guilty of violating patients' privacy could be terminated and sued for up to $25,000 per violation.
But in their letter, Morrisey and the other attorneys general suggested the online training is not extensive enough, and asked if HHS planned to levy other penalties against fraudulent navigators besides civil fines.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week two groups — Advanced Patient Advocacy, LLC and West Virginia Parent Training and Information Inc.— will be responsible for hiring navigators in the state.
The navigators will be paid using federal grant funds. Advanced Patient Advocacy, which also will hire navigators in Florida, Kansas, Virginia and West Virginia, received $276,000 to pay its employees.
West Virginia Parent Training and Information received about $366,000 to pay for its navigators.