Covered California hands out consumer's personal info to insurance companies
Who needs hackers when you've got Covered California, the Obamacare state exchange, giving out personal information on potential customers without their consent?
But it's OK - really. They're just trying to be helpful.
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.
The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state's move.
"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.
The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website since enrollment launched Oct. 1, but for whatever reason never picked a health plan or completed the sign-up process.
The state said it provided information on tens of thousands of people who logged into the state's website, but it didn't know the exact number.
The exchange said agents were given names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available.
No other information on the application, such as Social Security numbers, income and other personal details, was shared, according to the exchange.
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.
"I can imagine some people may be upset," Lee said in an interview Friday. "But I can see a lot of people will be comforted and relieved at getting the help they need to navigate a confusing process."
Few things in life are more annoying than getting unexpected and unwanted calls from salespeople. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way so the bureaucrats might be interested in knowing that far more than "some people" might be upset over this egregious breach of privacy. I can't imagine too many people being "comforted and relieved" by getting a dozen sales calls from high pressure insurance salesmen either.
What's more shocking? The breach of privacy itself or the cavalier manner that the authorities in California are responding to it?