After Public Push, CMS Curbs Health Insurance Agents’ Access to Consumer SSNs

Until last week, the system that is used to enroll people in federal Affordable Care Act insurance plans inadvertently allowed access by insurance brokers to consumers’ full Social Security numbers, information brokers don’t need.

That raised concerns about the potential for misuse.

The access to policyholders’ personal information was one of the problems cited in a KFF Health News article describing growing complaints about rogue agents enrolling people in ACA coverage, also known as Obamacare, or switching consumers’ plans without their permission in order to garner the commissions. The consumers are often unaware of the changes until they go to use their plan and find their doctors are not in the new plan’s network or their drugs are not covered.

Agent Joshua Brooker told KFF Health News it was relatively easy for agents to access full Social Security numbers through the federal insurance marketplace’s enrollment platforms, warning that “bad eggs now have access to all this private information about an individual.”

On April 1, the morning the article was posted on NPR’s website, Brooker said, he got a call from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services questioning the accuracy of his comments.

A CMS representative told him he was wrong and that the numbers were hidden, Brooker said April 7. “I illustrated that they were not,” he said.

After he showed how the information could be accessed, “the immediate response was a scramble to patch what was acknowledged as ‘problematic,’” Brooker posted to social media late last week.

Brooker has followed the issue closely as chair of a marketplace committee for the National Association of Benefits and Insurance Professionals, a trade group.

After some phone calls with CMS and other technical experts, Brooker said, the federal site and direct enrollment partner platforms now mask the first six digits of the SSNs.

“It was fixed Wednesday evening,” Brooker told KFF Health News. “This is great news for consumers.”

An April 8 written statement from CMS said the agency places the highest priority on protecting consumer privacy.

“Upon learning of this system vulnerability, CMS took immediate action to reach out to the direct enrollment platform where vulnerability was identified to make sure it was addressed,” wrote Jeff Wu, acting director of the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight at CMS.

He added that the Social Security numbers were not accessible through routine use of the platform but were in a portion of the site called developer tools. “This issue does not impact healthcare.gov,” Wu wrote.

Brooker’s concern about Social Security numbers centered on access by licensed agents to existing policyholder information though the federal marketplace, not including the parts of healthcare.gov used by consumers, who cannot access anything but their own accounts.

While consumers can enroll on their own, many turn to agents for assistance. There are about 70,000 licensed agents nationwide certified to use the healthcare.gov site or its partner enrollment platforms. They must meet certain training and licensing requirements to do so. Brooker has been quick to say it is a minority of agents who are causing the problem.

But agents increasingly are frustrated by what they describe as a sharp increase during the second half of 2023 and into 2024 of unscrupulous rivals switching people from one plan to another, or at least switching the “agent of record” on the accounts, which directs the commission to the new agent. Wu’s statements have so far not included requested information on the number of complaints about unauthorized switching, or the number of agents who have been sanctioned as a result.

The changes shielding the Social Security numbers are helpful, Brooker said, but won’t necessarily slow unauthorized switching of plans. Rogue agents can still switch an enrollee’s plan with simply their name, date of birth, and state of residence, despite rules that require agents to collect written or recorded consent from consumers before making any changes.

Julie Appleby:
jappleby@kff.org,
@Julie_appleby

Related Topics

Contact Us

Submit a Story Tip

spot_img

Explore more

Why is my vagina dry during sex?

Why is my vagina dry during sex?

If you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor (or anyone) the question:...
Inside the Factory Supplying Half of Africa’s Syringes

Inside the Factory Supplying Half of Africa’s Syringes

On the stunning Kenyan coast, about halfway between 15th-century ruins and the vibrant city of Mombasa, a small factory is helping to achieve one...

Dental SEO versus PPC: choosing the best strategy for your dental...

Shaz Memon weights up the pros and cons of dental SEO versus pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to work out which digital marketing model is best...
My Favorite Memorial Day Sales on Tablets

My Favorite Memorial Day Sales on Tablets

Today is Memorial Day, and many retailers are offering deals on laptops, TVs, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, smartphones, and tablets. If you want a new...

Superfood Mushrooms: Nature’s Secret to Radiant Beauty from the Inside Out

Imagine waking up every morning feeling energized, clear-headed, and ready to take on the world. You look in the mirror and see radiant, youthful...

GLP-1s’ direct and indirect impacts on health care and consumer goods...

Today, I spoke live with Paul Bagnell, news anchor with Bloomberg BNN,...
Reshona Jessamy on Beauty Meeting Mental Health

Reshona Jessamy on Beauty Meeting Mental Health

Reshona Jessamy shares how she wants to inspire others through skincare, emphasizing mental health. She is transparent about how the way she was treated...
green, smoothie, strawberries-2607334.jpg

Unleash The Power Of Fast 800 Keto Diet For Sustainable Weight...

Introduction: Understanding the Fast 800 Keto Approach In the quest for sustainable weight management, the Fast 800 Keto diet has emerged as a beacon of...