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‘Human element’ a concern for health insurance data security

‘Human element’ a concern for health insurance data security

Dustin Hurst
September 23, 2013
Author Image
September 23, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a member of the state insurance exchange board, says the exchange must be "ever vigilant" about personal information security.

Well, that was fast.

While Obamacare, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, is still a few days away, the controversial package—with all its twists, turns, rules and regulations—has already experienced its first security breach.

Americans grow more wary of big government data-mining with each passing day, a descent kicked off by this summer’s stunning revelations about the National Security Agency’s aggressive cyber-snooping. Yet, in just a few short days, the federal government will require millions of Americans—Idahoans included—to hand over their personal data in order to purchase health insurance and qualify for federal handouts.

The federal government, which is setting up exchanges for a majority of states, and state governments are scrambling to ensure that private data is secure, but they can’t. Why?

The human element.

Just last week, an employee working for Minnesota’s health exchange, MNsure, accidentally released the private information of at least 2,400 health insurance agents.


According to reports, the worker sent the information in the form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, including names, business address and Social Security numbers, to the office of an insurance broker located in Apple Valley, Minn.
Here’s the kicker: The document containing all the sensitive information wasn’t even encrypted to provide an additional security layer.

The broker who received the file, Jim Koester, was distraught after the whole thing.

"The more I thought about it, the more troubled I was," he told Fox News. "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?"

The Minnesota agency worked with Koester to scrub his computer of the file.

As Obamacare care rolls out in Idaho, though, the Minnesota incident raises questions for interested families or others who might purchase insurance through the exchange.

Is the data safe?

Short answer: Not exactly.

As required by law, the Idaho health exchange, now known as Your Health Idaho, must verify that its system is secure and protected from security breaches. Still, the human element creates the potential for problems.

“When you have the human element, there is always room for error,” admitted state Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon. Packer is one of three state legislators—Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, are the others—who sits on the exchange’s oversight board.

Packer told IdahoReporter.com that while officials are doing everything within their power to ensure personal data is safe and sound, the guarantee has limits.

“This is something we’re very aware of,” Packer said. “Things like this happen in every industry.”
Idaho officials continue to move forward toward the Oct. 1 open date. Packer says the exchange, approved just months ago during the contention 2013 legislative session, is nearly ready to open its doors.

Your Health Idaho didn’t return a call for comment.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is instituting Obamacare, certified just last week that the digital brain behind the exchange, the federal data services hub, is secure. The hub, which cost millions to build, will process loads of information from those who purchase insurance through exchanges.

Some Capitol Hill Republicans, though, say the system’s security checks have been rushed and believe the federal agency should run additional tests.

Across the states, though, officials know the data isn’t completely safe, even if the system checks out.

“We’ll have to remain ever vigilant,” Packer said.

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