Obama administration seeks to bolster U.S. health law privacy

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 18, 2013 9:02pm IST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will announce measures to reassure Americans about the privacy and security of the information they submit when they sign up for insurance under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, officials said on Wednesday.

The administration plans to promote a toll-free telephone number to report fraud or attempted identity theft under the law, and expects to launch measures such as an online identification-verification system to keep taxpayer-funded subsidies from going to criminals, officials said.

Online health insurance exchanges, a key means to enroll an estimated 7 million uninsured Americans for next year, are to open across the country on October 1, and the administration is scrambling to surmount political and operational obstacles to get them running on time. People have until March to sign up for coverage next year.

Technology experts have cited the risk of fraud and abuse as factors that could complicate or delay the implementation of the exchanges, and opponents of the law have seized on those worries.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez and other federal and state officials were to discuss the privacy and security issues at White House meeting on Wednesday, officials said.

That will be followed by events this week at the Justice Department and at the Federal Trade Commission aimed at reassuring Americans that their personal information will be safe and to publicize ways to report criminal activity, they said.

Republicans are waging a dogged fight against the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. They have made delaying or defunding Obamacare a top priority and want to make that a condition for passing federal government spending bills or an increase in the nation's debt limit.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, in August expressed concern about the potential for privacy violations, and Florida recently placed restrictions on counselors trained to help people sign up for healthcare, citing concerns about the theft of personal information.

Implementation of Obamacare so far has been faced a series of delays. Most recently, the administration held back the signing of final agreements with insurance plans to be sold on the exchanges, probably because of technology problems.

Administration officials have said repeatedly that the marketplaces would begin on time. But the October 1 deadline has begun to falter in some places at the state level, with Oregon announcing plans to scale back the launch of its own marketplace. Meanwhile, California has said it will be ready for full enrollment in time.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and David Morgan; Editing by Vicki Allen)

(This story was refiled to drop extraneous word in the first paragraph)

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