Opinion

Insecure connection

Drumroll, please.

The exchanges are almost here.

It’s a big day. In my calendar I even wrote “Exchanges open!” the way a 9-year-old might scribble “My BIRTHDAY!” in anticipation of presents and a party.

Amid all the “rate shock” warnings, PPACA delays and other anticipation, the one thing I’m most eager about is the technology.

As I wrote for Benefits Selling’s September cover story, technology — not red tape — poses a larger threat to the successful rollout of both the state and federal health exchanges.

“There will be problems,” Patrick Riley, a health analyst for Frost & Sullivan told me.

In fact, consumers should expect a “plethora of them.”

Other experts said that, without a doubt, there will be bugs, glitches and other technical problems beginning Oct. 1 when they go live.

Everyone’s Internet crashes? Perhaps. A myriad of spinning pinwheels? Likely. Taking hours to figure out, or enroll in a plan? Very likely. Confusing? Most definitely.

But scarier than that is privacy and security threats.

Is this fear of technology new?

No, it’s always been there. It’s there in the way my mother swears off most Internet shopping, convinced people will get her credit card information, and the way both my parents continually discuss the “dangers of Facebook” saying it disrupts any privacy. (They would never, ever be a part of something that external — and who could blame them?). Or the same way we’re all creeped out by pop-up ads of things we Googled or discussed in an email to a friend (how did you know the exact pair of shoes I was looking at, or that I mentioned, once, a certain New York City hotel?)

But data security is paramount to the exchanges, as applicants will be required to submit a variety of sensitive details, including name, birth date, address and Social Security number, in the process of obtaining insurance. Some worry hackers could all-too-easily access the sensitive information of millions of Americans.

According to two nationwide surveys released by HealthPocket, Americans are as concerned about privacy protections on the new federal health insurance exchanges as they are about data security. With respect to the potential for government privacy violations, 53 percent of survey respondents said they aren’t confident personal information requested within the exchanges would be treated as private and not inappropriately shared with other government agencies.

In a separate survey, HealthPocket found that 57 percent of respondents weren’t confident personal information requested within the marketplaces would be safe from hacking and other misuse.

“To address these public concerns and attract consumers to the exchanges, the government must communicate a compelling case that the security and privacy measures associated with the exchanges will be successful,” said Kev Coleman, head of research & data at HealthPocket.

Well, we’re less than a week out from go time, and there’s no “compelling case” I’ve heard. Just last week, a report from the Inspector General’s Office at Health and Human Services found that the federal exchange network is “months behind” on tests related to protecting privacy.

Make no mistake, technological glitches happen all the time. Websites freeze, they crash, they recover. Similar glitches will happen with the exchanges, but it won’t be the end of the world.

But privacy breaches are different. A loss of trust and security is something you can never get back. Hopefully — but not definitely — it’s an issue that won’t arise. But I trust that the way I trust technology — and that’s very little.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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