As Gov. Butch Otter’s agenda for a state insurance exchange advances in the Idaho Legislature, there remain concerns by some over how personal information may be collected by an exchange, including information about personal firearms ownership.
"I have huge questions about this entire matter,” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, tells IdahoReporter.com. “Who is supposedly guaranteeing that our personal data remains secure, and what does it mean for our data to be ‘secure,’ in this context, anyway?”
At issue is House Bill 248, the insurance exchange legislation that was approved overwhelmingly in the House Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday, March 7, and is now headed to the floor of the House for debate. Language in the bill stipulates that the board of directors for an Idaho state insurance exchange shall "certify" to the director (presumably the director of the Idaho Department of Insurance) and the governor that all personal information collected on Idaho exchange participants is "secure."
Yet the legislation doesn’t specify what “certify” means in this context, nor does it define what it means for personal information about private citizens to be “secure.” Boyle sees that as problematic. "I have grave concerns about how this certification will take place,” Boyle says, “and from who is our personal information supposedly secure? We’re being asked to support a bill that is full of ambiguities.”
In response, the governor’s office provided a definition of secure and certification.
“Secure means preventing the ability of any unauthorized individual(s) or agent(s), by electronic hacking or any other illegal means, from accessing any of the personal information. That includes such things as name, address and taxpayer ID number,” Otter press secretary Jon Hanian told IdahoReporter.com.
As for certification, says Hanian, it “means verification that all precautions and security measures are in place to safeguard that data attested to by the state and the federal government to ensure that that information is and remains secure.”
That explanation does not satisfy Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an opponent of the House bill.
“Merely saying that data is secure doesn’t make it so,” says Hoffman. “Really what the bill has done is create a huge target for hackers who are going to be attracted to the idea of attacking a supposedly secure government database. The real problem, however, is that there is no limitation on the exchange giving over sensitive personal information to other government agencies, nor is there any limit on how long that data is to be retained.”
Boyle also raises concerns about the possible collection of information within a state insurance exchange regarding firearm ownership by private citizens. The bill includes language that has been replicated from the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which states that “none of the authorities provided to the Secretary (U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services) under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or an amendment by that Act shall be construed to authorize or may be used to maintain the records of individual ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition."
Boyle notes, however, that being forbidden to “maintain” records doesn’t necessarily preclude the collection of the records in the first place.
"The real question about the collection of gun ownership data in a state insurance exchange is a question about the federal rules that will govern the state exchange,” Boyle tells IdahoReporter.com. “A state insurance exchange in Idaho will have to follow rules set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those rules are still being written. They can change at any time, and they will absolutely override rules that our state puts in place.”
On this point Boyle is consistent with the federal Obamacare law itself. In Section 1311 of the law, it is stipulated that, “an exchange (a state insurance exchange) may not establish rules that conflict with or prevent the application of regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services under this subtitle.”
Hoffman feels the Legislature needs to amend the bill to protect Idaho citizens. “Because the prohibition on data collection likely applies only to the federal government, I believe the Legislature needs to add something to the exchange bill just to keep the federal government from attempting to tap the state exchange for firearms data,” Hoffman says. “That doesn't mean that the state exchange bill is now, all of a sudden, a positive Second Amendment bill. What it is instead is net-neutral when it comes to firearms data collection.”
Firearm ownership concerns and privacy issues, says Hanian, have similar language in both the federal health care exchange program and in the state bill now under consideration. The reason is not complicated, according to the press secretary. Some Idaho lawmakers wanted firearm protection language in the state bill “as a condition of their support … so it was included.”
During early debate on a state health car exchange, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, characterized it as nothing more than a website to shop for insurance options.
The comment drew a response from Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls. “It is naïve to say that a state insurance exchange will be ‘just a website,’” said Trujillo. “It will be an entity that is gathering information about Idahoans and sending it to the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Similarly, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. R-Star, told IdahoReporter.com that “a state insurance exchange will ultimately be beholden to the secretary of HHS (United States Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.). I’m concerned that if this passes, Idaho will come to regret it.”
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.