Re-debunking one easily debunked conservative lie about Obamacare and HealthCare.gov

November 13, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 13, 2013

On Oct. 25, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee appeared with CNN anchor Carol Costello to discuss GOP charges that HealthCare.gov might be compromising the privacy — specifically, the medical information — of its users.

Now, I certainly can’t vouch for the security of HealthCare.gov. What I would argue, however, is that if the data it collects from other website visitors goes no deeper than what I provided — and that’s my understanding based on reporting on the matter — then everyone’s medical history is completely safe.

Why is that? Because HealthCare.gov doesn’t really collect any medical information.

It asked for my name, physical and e-mail addresses, phone number and race. It also asked whether I was a member of a federal recognized Native American tribe, whether I had Hispanic or Latino origins, and whether anyone for whom I was applying for coverage was incarcerated. There were a few multiple choice questions intended to verify my identity: the year was I born, cities in which I had previously lived, the name of the pet for which I had recently purchased veterinary insurance (a red herring; I’ve never owned a pet as an adult).

Excepting, I suppose, the identity verification queries, which the website said were based on the database of the Experian credit bureau, these are all more or less standard questions that any health insurance company would want answered before selling me a policy. In fact, prior to Oct. 1, I’d bet insurance companies would require answers to most or all of those questions before they’d tell me whether they would even sell me a policy.

But HealthCare.gov didn’t ask me any questions about my medical history, except for this: whether I’d regularly used tobacco products over the last six months. (I’ve never smoked — anything at all.)

Now, I certainly don’t want HealthCare.gov’s security to be compromised; like many websites, it has enough data on me to enable any identity thief to ruin my credit score. But even if hackers sucked every last bit of data about me from the Obamacare exchange website, they wouldn’t know anything more about my medical history than they might get from meeting me at a party — where I wouldn’t be smoking.

As I wrote yesterday, my venture onto HealthCare.gov has not yet extended to attempting to enroll in a health insurance policy. But I am familiar with applying for and purchasing coverage on the individual market prior to the Oct. 1 implementation of Obamacare, and here’s what I can report: Insurers ask lots of detailed questions about potential customers’ medical histories. One company wanted to know every single prescription drug I’d taken in the past two years. It’s standard practice to request an applicant to list every diagnosis he or she has received over the past five years.

I don’t know how much data insurers collect now that Obamacare’s guaranteed issue provision has kicked into play. (That’s the rule that prevents companies from refusing to sell coverage to customers who have pre-existing health conditions.) But I imagine that the Affordable Care Act, being the non-socialistic kludge that it is, leaves this part of the policy purchasing process largely intact.

In other words, Obamacare would appear to be expanding medical coverage for millions of Americans while making relatively small-bore changes to the nation’s health care system.

Not only is it clear that the nonsense Rep. Blackburn was trying to propagate is just that, this whole off-target attack provides yet more evidence that the hyperbolic doom-saying conservatives have been peddling about the Affordable Care Act is also rubbish.

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