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Covered California’s war on privacy. #obamacare

Hey, did you sign up an account in the California Obamacare exchanges? If you did, guess what: Covered California gave out your personal information to brokers, the better for them to call you up out of the blue and try to sell you an insurance policy!

Isn’t that nice of Covered California?

Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California’s health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn’t ask to be contacted.

[snip]

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, acknowledged that these consumers did not ask to be contacted by the state or its certified insurance agents. But he said the outreach program still complies with privacy laws and it was reviewed by the exchange’s legal counsel.

Yeah, tell that to both individual consumers AND the insurance industry. The former generally does not like the idea that a website, group, organization, or government entity might feel comfortable at having personal information being given out to private third parties without prior consent. And it doesn’t really matter whether somebody else might feel differently, or whether they might feel differently if they only had all the facts. Folks get twitchy automatically when it comes to privacy; a smart government entity takes that into account, and designs the system to be opt-in, rather than opt-out.

And then there’s the insurance industry. Let me quote from the article again, because it sums up their problem nicely:

“I’m shocked and dumbfounded,” said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.

Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.

“These people would have a legitimate complaint,” Smith said.

See, Sam here is upset because the state of California almost made him a cold caller. Sam is a professional; he represents both a professional firm and a professional industry group. If the state gives him contact information for uninsured people, Sam has a reasonable expectation that those people: a), need his professional services; b), want his professional services; and c), have requested assistance. Sam would call those people with those expectations in place. But if those people didn’t need, want, or request his services, they will react badly to a call from the blue telling them that their private information was out in the digital wilds. And they would take it out on Sam, and Sam’s insurance brokerage agency.

So why is Covered California doing this, given that it’s going to annoy people throughout the health care system? Simple: “[t]hrough mid-November, Covered California signed up nearly 80,000 people in private health plans and an additional 140,000 people qualified for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.” These numbers are problematical (Medi-Cal signups, in particular); but the state of California is nonetheless moving ahead with mass cancellations of existing health insurance policies. Those people who are about to be without policies are going to be very upset if they’re without coverage on 01/01/2014, and as a political perspective it really will not matter why they no longer will have coverage.

So… best to give out whatever leads the system can generate: some of them will surely generate hits. And never mind if the state had prior permission. Or if the people who will get called will be upset. Or if the insurance brokers get upset for being misled. After all, it’s not as if people are going to get any more mad…

Moe Lane (crosspost)

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