Obamacare czar begs for public 'trust' in handling their personal health info

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Obamacare,Health Care,Privacy

As many Americans express dismay at the level of information the Obama administration is secretly gathering on them, the president's Obamacare czar is begging the public to trust her agency and the IRS to protect the personal health information they plan to collect and store for years.

"I want to assure you and all Americans, that when they fill out their [health insurance] marketplace applications, they can trust the information they're providing is protected," assured Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a congressional hearing this week.

Congress, in light of the IRS scandal and multiple reports on information being gathered and stored by the government on all Americans, is raising red flags about the information Obamacare plans to collect and share with the IRS, other federal agencies and states, including the personal health information of those seeking help under Obamacare.

At the oversight hearing, officials confirmed that applicants will be asked for their name, address, phone numbers, email addresses, ethnicity, employer, income, race and even the status of their pregnancy. That will be kept until they exit Obamacare.

What's more, the Obamacare office recently said that they will be creating a data hub where applicants' "personal health information" will be shared--not stored--to verify their eligibility to get health insurance under the health reform law. That information can include their health care payments, the claim status, premium payments and even the first report of an injury and come from state and federal agencies.

But the Obamacare officials at the oversight hearing created confusion when they said that the information will not be sought and certainly won't be stored anywhere.

Tavenner, for example said the Obamacare system "never asks for personal health information and the marketplace information system will never access or store personal health information beyond that which is routinely used when applying for Medicaid."

And Henry Chao, the CMS IT director who will help run the Obamacare data hub and separate storage system, said, "certainly we are not collecting, you know, personally, you know, identifiable health information on any individuals throughout this application process."

Rep. Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican, noticed that the two officials didn't seem to be agreeing with the information put out by the administration on information gathering for Obamacare. "There is a conflict between what you say and what we read," she said.

Last month, in an opinion piece in U.S. News & World Report, she raised concerns with the data collection and data hub. "With so much personal information going in and out of the hub likely privy to both government employees and contractors, many of whom will have discretion over health care coverage and tax penalties, the potential for abuses is staggering," she wrote, adding, "Will the Americans who do not purchase government approved insurance soon find themselves targeted and harassed through IRS audits? Right now, only time will tell."

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.