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Idaho insurance exchange votes to press forward despite concerns about data security

Idaho insurance exchange votes to press forward despite concerns about data security

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
October 1, 2013
[post_thumbnail]General counsel for the exchange, Michael Stoddard, and board member Jeff Agenbroad discuss issues facing the Idaho State Health Insurance Exchange hours away from implementation of the enrollment process.

With five members absent and with one voting in dissent, the board of directors for the Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange has nonetheless approved plans to launch YourHealthIdaho.Org.

The final vote was 11-1, with the five abstentions. The lone “no” vote came from Tom Shores. There are 19 members on the exchange board, but two of them are non-voting members.

According to comments made by Executive Director Amy Dowd at Monday’s board meeting, the website will be fully “live” as of 11 p.m. Mountain Time Monday.

At issue for the board members was whether they could “certify” that personal data collected through the exchange website will be kept “secure.” According to language in the legislation that created the exchange, the board of directors for the exchange must “certify” to the Idaho governor that all personal information collected on Idaho exchange participants is “secure.”

Yet the legislation itself doesn’t specify what the words “certify” or “secure” actually mean in its own context. “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” Jon Hanian, press secretary to Gov. Butch Otter, told IdahoReporter.com on March 12. “That includes such things as name, address and taxpayer ID number.”

At Monday’s meeting, board members were joined via teleconference by Tom Shankweiler, chief information security officer in the office of the secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Shankweiler explained that HHS had conducted tests on the Idaho exchange’s website and that the website was being “fully certified for accreditation” and permitted to operate. Despite the fact that no documentation of this approval had yet been supplied to the insurance exchange staff or board of directors, Shankweiler was nonetheless offering his verbal approval.

“There has been a document produced that details both the system’s security strengths and weaknesses,” Shankweiler told the board members who were present. “As you would imagine, we don’t want that out in the general public.” Shankweiler added that he was seeking to gather “screen shots” of the portions of the document that verify the exchange’s certification, but had not been able to send those to Idaho officials as yet.

“This is supposed to happen tomorrow,” board member Shores interjected. “I mean no disrespect to Mr. Shankweiler, but we need this certification documented so as to protect the state from liabilities. If we don’t get this documentation today, are we still moving forward?”

“That is up to a vote of the board,” Stephen Weeg, chairman of the board responded.

After Weeg’s reply, Dowd noted to the board members that a letter had already been prepared to send to the governor that would serve as “certification” of the exchange’s security. The letter, she said, would be signed once the board voted in favor of a motion to approve the certification.

“I still have a concern on the verbal side,” Shores said before the vote. “I’m sure our federal government’s word is good, but we don’t have anything in writing yet. This needs to be put in writing to us to minimize the state’s potential liability.”

“As I said, a document has been produced,” Shankweiler responded. “It is also classified as a sensitive document and it details the system’s security strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t want it to get out to the general public. I am trying to create a subset document to send you, but I don’t have that yet.”

To this point, Dowd asked Shankweiler: “Do you have an ETA (estimated time of arrival) for the snapshots (screen shots)?”

“I do not,” Shakweiler replied.

At another point during the meeting, Shores asked how the disagreements in the U.S. Congress over Obamacare funding might impact the Idaho insurance exchange. “The House of Representatives has already voted to delay Obamacare for a year, and if that position prevails in the U.S. Senate, where does that leave us?”

“A potential government shutdown will not delay the implementation of the state insurance exchanges,” Dowd replied. Noting that she had recently been on a conference call with the federal government where the matter of a government shutdown was discussed, she said “the implementation funds (for the exchanges) will not be disrupted.”

“That is not what I’m asking,” Shores replied. “A government shutdown is one thing, but if both the House and Senate vote to delay Obamacare for a year, where would that leave us?”

“I have no idea,” Dowd stated.

The board plans to meet again Thursday, Oct. 3, to review the first two days of the exchange’s operations.

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