Despite warnings of possible privacy violations from President Obama's own Department of Health and Human Services and California's Democratic insurance commissioner, House Democrats are fighting Republican efforts to provide congressional oversight to how third-party groups handle private Obamacare information.
On Aug. 29, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., sent letters to 51 organizations that recently received $67 million in Obamacare Navigator grants from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Recipient organizations are supposed to use the money to help sign up as many people as possible to Obamacare.
But on Aug. 2, the HHS Inspector General released a report finding that the Obama administration has missed many key deadlines on the creation of a data hub that will be used to sign people up for Obamacare. These delays could compromise the security of the private data Americans give third-party organizations when they sign up for Obamacare.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, also sounded the alarm about possible privacy risks. "We can have a disaster on our hands," Jones said, referring to the possible abuse of private information (including Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and health records) given to third parties.
And on Aug. 7, HHS announced that it was lowering the number of training hours required to become Navigator staff from 30 to 20 hours.
The Upton letter asked, among other things, for Navigator-grant-recipients to identify how they were training Navigator-grant-funded staff, how they were monitoring said staff, and how recipients planned to safeguard the private information given to them while they signed people up for Obamacare.
Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee saw these oversight efforts as a complete abuse of congressional power.
"There is no legitimate predicate for these letters," Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to Upton Aug. 30, "and no evidence of malfeasance from any of the organizations... The timing of these letters is particularly suspect."
Upton sent his letters to Navigator recipients on Aug. 29. The grants were first announced on Aug. 15.
Navigator program spending is already $13 million over budget and has grown 25 percent.