BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott wrote to top congressional leaders Monday expressing concern about the security of people's personal information as they sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
In the letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he also urged Congress to use whatever means necessary to ensure the proper safeguards are in place.
"Floridians should not have to exchange their privacy for insurance," Scott said in the letter. He called Florida "ground zero" for the Obama administration's efforts to enroll people in the new health care exchanges, a key component of the law.
Scott's concerns focus on the "navigators" — counselors trained to walk people through the intricacies of the new law and sort through various insurance plans.
He mentioned a Minnesota navigator who mistakenly received Social Security numbers for 2,400 people from a state exchange employee.
Navigators are getting caught in the political crosshairs of the Affordable Care Act as the Oct. 1 launch date for the online state exchanges draws closer. One company recently announced it was returning its navigator grant, saying the increasing state and federal regulatory scrutiny had become too much.
Scott's letter comes after Democrats lambasted the Republican governor after state health officials ordered county health departments across Florida to ban navigators from conducting outreach on their property.
"It seems that Gov. Scott and his staff spend their days conjuring up new ways to keep Floridians in the dark about health care choices coming Oct 1," Rep. Ted Deutch said at a meeting with a handful of navigators Monday.
John Foley, an attorney with Legal Aid Society, recently completed the 20-hour navigator training. He said the training should help allay fears because it covers privacy issues extensively.
"It makes it clear that a navigator, under any circumstances, should not retain any information ever," said Foley, who is testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce this week. He said even scanned information will be deleted after it's sent.
Republicans on the committee have called on some of the grant recipients to answer lengthy questions about their budgets, training and supervision. The Republicans' letter set a deadline last Friday for dozens of groups to produce documents.
Federal health officials have repeatedly said applicant information is not stored in a database, but is instead transferred instantaneously through a secure hub. For example, Internal Revenue Service officials won't have access to health information or information about an applicant's immigration status.
The navigator grants were awarded to organizations with track records of helping people in their communities. Navigators also won't be able to access information once it has been submitted to the exchange.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of south Florida said "the arguments that the governor makes are not valid" and brushed them off as nothing more than political partisanship.
"Instead of giving (the health care law) an opportunity to work they want it to fail not on its merits, but by obstructing people and confusing people," she said.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration's top health official will be back in Florida on Tuesday for the third time in five days in an attempt to push back against Scott's efforts.
Despite what they called "shameful attempts by the state to block the law," federal health officials said the new online state exchange where families and small businesses can shop for health insurance will be ready to launch on Oct. 1.
HHS spokesman Fabien Levy said they are doubling down their efforts to reach Floridians in light of the state's recent decisions.