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'Navigators' Too Risky: Cabinet

State Cabinet officials expressed concern Tuesday that the federal government's "navigator" plan would place Floridians' personal information in danger. They urged citizens to use state-licensed insurance agents to get help deciding which is the best insurance plan when the federal online Marketplace opens Oct. 1.

Gov. Rick Scott said he fears that the federal government wants to amass a huge database of personal information on citizens' health.  He said he's worried that the navigators will turn over information for that database.

Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi said her fear is that the vetting process isn't in place and that unscrupulous individuals could steal identities from the uninsured persons who come to them for help.  The original idea was for navigators and those who assist them to be fingerprinted and have a criminal background check, but there is such a short time until the Marketplace opens that step has been delayed.

"I don't want a convicted felon having our citizens' personal information. We need to know how they're going to be trained, number two, who's going to monitor them, who's going to be liable if someone's identity is stolen?" Bondi asked.

Bondi was one of 13 state attorneys general who sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, expressing concern about the safety and security of consumers' private information. They asked her to reply by Aug. 28.

Scott said he's concerned about the cutback in training for navigators from the planned 30 hours to 20 hours, which he said will result in "novices" handling the job.

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who had been asked to present information on navigators to the Cabinet, forecast problems.

"Could you train someone in 20 hours?" Scott asked him. "No," McCarty said.

Florida is one of the states that is getting extra federal money to pay navigators because of state officials' reluctance to implement the Affordable Care Act and the large number of uninsured residents, about 3.8 million. 

Sebelius came to Tampa last week to announce $7.8 million in grants to employ Navigators in Florida. University of South Florida's Covering Kids & Families received the largest grant, $4.2 million. It will disperse the money to groups throughout the state.

Navigators' first job is to scout out uninsured people who may not know about the Marketplace, which will offer subsidies to those who have modest incomes so they can afford to purchase insurance. The federal health law requires Americans who don't already have coverage through an employer, union or the government to obtain it for themselves.

The online Marketplace was created to enable uninsured people to compare plans in an apples-to-apples fashion. It also will have a calculator that allows the user to plug in information -- such as taxable income and family size -- that shows whether a subsidy is available.

(The Kaiser Family Foundation offers a similar calculator online.)

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.