California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) and consumer advocacy groups are concerned about the potential for fraud and identity theft when individuals enroll in the state's health insurance exchange, AP/U-T San Diego reports (Lin, AP/U-T San Diego, 7/13).
The exchange -- called Covered California -- primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.
Supporters hope that the exchange will function similarly to websites like Amazon and Expedia, allowing users to choose among various health plans through an easily navigable online store.
The exchange is expected to open for registration in October, and an estimated five million people will purchase plans through the exchange in 2014 (California Healthline, 7/1).
Privacy, Fraud Concerns
Jones and consumer groups say that the exchange is not doing enough to ensure that people hired as enrollment counselors -- individuals who will provide consumers with in-person assistance in signing up for health plans -- are adequately screened and monitored.
The network of more than 21,000 enrollment counselors could have access to consumers' personal and financial information, such as ID cards and medical histories.
According to Jones, the exchange does not have a plan for investigating any complaints that could arise once the counselors begin their work.
Jones said that it will be possible for the counselors to "obtain information that will allow them to build the trust they have with the individual they're working with and potentially sell them all manner of bogus products, steal their identity, gain access to certain assets they might have ... The list is virtually endless."
He added, "We can have a real disaster on our hands."
Meanwhile, Eric von Geldern -- president of the Northern California Fraud Investigators Association -- said he believes the exchange should implement an ongoing counselor monitoring system, rather than just initial qualifying requirements. He said the group is working with Covered California to ensure that consumers' safety and privacy are protected.
However, Cary Sanders -- policy analysis director for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network -- said, "We don't want applicants from communities where the exchange really needs to reach out to being sent away because they made a mistake in the past. ... It doesn't have any bearing on their ability to provide the appropriate assistance to their communities."
Santiago Lucero -- a spokesperson for Covered California -- said that consumer safety is a primary concern for the exchange.
He added that the exchange board has adopted fingerprinting and background check requirements for the enrollment counselors, in addition to establishing a code of conduct.
Lucero also said the exchange will use "secret shoppers" and field monitors to assess enrollment counselors' performances (AP/U-T San Diego, 7/13).