Lindeen: Insurance Navigators Must Obey Privacy Law

By Beacon Staff

The individuals responsible for helping Montana residents enroll in insurance under the Affordable Care Act this fall are subject to the same strict privacy laws governing insurance companies and are subject to fines and prosecution for failing to keep Montanans’ personal information private, Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen announced Tuesday.

Montana’s Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act covers “navigators” and “certified application counselors,” and individuals who fail to comply with the law are subject to a $25,000 fine for each violation, Lindeen said in a news release sent across the state. The law may also allow Montanans to sue those who fail to keep their personal information private.

“Montanans value privacy and our laws reflect that,” Lindeen said. “My office has been in the business of protecting the personal information Montanans share with their insurance companies for years. We’re not afraid to use the full extent of the law to go after bad actors.”

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced recently that Montana and 12 other states sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expressing concerns about consumers’ private information being protected under the new health insurance exchanges that are set to go into effect this fall. Here’s Fox’s letter.

The letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. sent Aug. 15, says privacy protection measures written into HHS’s rules governing programs that assist consumers with enrolling in the planned new health care exchanges are woefully inadequate.

“The risk of inadequate training is only one issue I’m concerned about,” Fox said in a statement. “The proposed consumer safeguards also are woefully substandard and come up short when compared to other privacy protections at the state and federal level. HHS must understand that it’s not enough to simply adopt vague policies against fraud. Each person collecting information is being placed in a position of trust and will have access to a wide variety of personal information from consumers. Therefore, HHS must implement an on-the-ground plan to secure consumer information, follow up on complaints, and work with law enforcement to prosecute bad counselors; otherwise, this is a disaster waiting to happen.”

The new health care law envisions several classes of “assisters” – or individuals trained to understand the federal law and help people buy insurance through the new Marketplace and sign up for federal tax credits to bring down the cost of health insurance. One of the principle assisters will be “navigators,” who will be hired this fall with federal grants awarded to each state. Certified application counselors – or “CACs” – are also assisters, most of whom will work for hospitals or other medical providers. Insurance agents can also take training to understand the law and assist.

The 2013 Legislature passed a law by wide, bipartisan margins that empowered Lindeen’s office to further train all assisters on the specifics of Montana law and to license all navigators, CACs and agents. The law further requires navigators to pass a background check. Lindeen’s office is in the process of rolling out the training required for all Montana navigators, insurance agents and CACs. The training includes information on the Montana Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act, which has long applied to insurance companies and agents to safeguard Montanans’ personal information.

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