TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are taking umbrage with President Barack Obama's “navigators” program intended to guide people through the requirements of the new Affordable Care Act, saying it lacks privacy protections.
But with the start of enrollment in health plans fast approaching, federal officials and Democrats shot back Tuesday that Florida’s top leadership was hyping the issue for political gain.
Specifically, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi criticized the federal government for inadequate safeguards to ensure that the personal information being gathered by the hundreds of people to be hired as “navigators” wouldn't increase the chances of identity theft.
Last week, U.S. Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Florida would get $7.8 million for the personnel, who will help uninsured people sign up for federally subsidized health insurance plans that begin Jan. 1. But training hours for those hired have been cut from 30 to 20 hours in the rush to have the program running by Oct. 1.
“Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate,” Scott said during a Cabinet meeting in Miami. “It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused.”
But Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted the “hypocrisy” of Scott and Bondi as another example of the Republican-dominated state government attempting to delay or impede implementation of the federal health law.
“He has been hell-bent on obstructing the smooth implementation of ObamaCare,” said Wasserman Schultz, a Weston congresswoman, in an interview. “He's done everything he can to block it and impede its implementation.”
Florida lawmakers this year passed a law (SB 1842) that requires navigators hired in Florida to be registered with the state, be U.S. citizens or legal aliens and undergo background checks.
But Scott and lawmakers also opted to let the federal government develop the health-care “exchange” that citizens could use to find plans, a move that also forfeited the state’s ability to hire, train and certify the navigators.
“They had the ability to control all of those issues themselves if they had chosen to set up a state exchange,” she said.
“Because of their political obstinance, they forfeited their right to express those concerns.”
Scott’s criticism is another example of his pivoting for re-election on a divisive political issue. While he had been a critic of the health-care law, last spring he spurned his conservative GOP base by embracing a $50-billion federal expansion of the Medicaid program that would have covered one million low-income people who are now uninsured.
Six months later, after the Legislature rejected the expansion, he’s reverted to opposing the law.
Bondi, who led the unsuccessful multi-state legal challenge to the law, along with 12 other Republican attorneys general asked Sebelius to require standardized background screenings of navigator applicants, and called the reduction in training requirements from 30 hours to 20 hours a product of “running out of time.”
“This has nothing to do with anything but protecting our citizens from identity theft,” Bondi said. “We have a lot of questions we need to have answers to. They're going to have access to your tax information, your personal information, your Social Security information.”
But Wasserman Schultz called that claim "rediculous."
"Gov. Scott's hypocrisy as well as the attorney general's hypocrisy in complaining about the training and screening of navigators and suggesting privacy is going to be in jeopardy is really outrageous," she said.
"He has no interest or concern about the health-care of Floridians."
Federal officials countered that no one would be asked to provide personal health information and people who chose to use navigators will have their eligibility verified in the same manner as applicants for other government programs.
“HHS has run in-person assistance programs for years to help Americans enroll in Medicare and Medicaid,” HHS press secretary Fabien Levy said in an e-mail.
“The Navigators will be one more resource for Americans to learn about their health insurance options, enroll in the Marketplaces, and find the plan that is best for themselves and their families. All navigators will be required to comply with privacy and security standards, and they will never obtain information without the consumers consent.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun