Uh-oh: Healthcare.gov may have been selling your data

Steven Loeb · January 21, 2015 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/3b8d

Healthcare.gov is accused of sending info, including a person's age and income to third parties

(Updated with comment from CMS)

I am a pretty big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, for many reasons, and will defend it to anyone who says otherwise. One thing that is hard to defend, though, is the Healthcare.gov website itself, and all of the stupid screw ups that have come with it. 

Remember all the glitches and outages that people had to get through when it first came online? Since then, things have quieted down a lot, and the program is looking pretty successful. But, of course, there was just another problem lurking around the corner. And, oh, is it going to be a big one. 

In a story that you just know is going to blow up all over conservative media, the Associated Press has reported that users who put their personal information into Healthcare.gov had it unknowingly sold to third parties, including advertisers.

Some of the information that could potentially have been sold includes the person's age, their income, their ZIP code, whether or not they are smokers, and if that person is pregnant.

And it gets worse, as the information could also include a computer’s Internet address, which can be used to identify a person’s name or address when it is combined with other information that has been collected by an online marketing or advertising firm.

Now, it should be noted that it is unknown what information, exactly is being sold, and the government insists that the firms who get the information cannot use it for their own business interests. 

The Obama administration says HealthCare.gov’s connections to data firms were intended to help improve the consumer experience. Officials said outside firms are barred from using the data to further their own business interests, and, as of now, there is no evidence that personal information has been misused. 

But it really has to make you wonder why they were even given any access to this information at all. Apparently, it was to "help improve the consumer experience," whatever that means. 

Republicans, of course, are already pouncing on this news.

“This new information is extremely concerning, not only because it violates the privacy of millions of Americans, but because it may potentially compromise their security,” Utah Senator Orrin Hatch wrote to the Obama administration.

“Protecting consumers’ privacy is a top priority. There is no evidence that consumer information has been misused by any third party. Unlike many retail sites similar to HealthCare.gov, we do not and will not sell a visitor’s information," a spokesperson for the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told VatorNews.

'We will remain vigilant and will continue to focus on what more we can do to keep consumers’ personal information secure.”

Whether or not any information was actually used by any of these third party sites, it will be a blow to the site, which had seemed to have overcome its early obstacles.

Obamacare numbers

The Obamacare rollout started out rocky—for the first few weeks, the Healthcare.gov site was down approximately 60% of the time.

On the day before launch, a technical report revealed that at that moment, the site could only handle a maximum of 1,100 users before response time became too high. The team working on the site said in the report that they were going to keep running tests to get the website to a capacity of 10,000 concurrent users. The federal government was anticipating 50,000 to 60,000 concurrent users on launch day. How many did they get? About 250,000 concurrent users.

As the story goes, only six people were able to enroll via Healthcare.gov on launch day. The site’s administrators reportedly had to go through the site with a fine-toothed comb, because as soon as they fixed one bug, another one popped up later in the enrollment process.

Once the glitches were ironed out, though, things seemed to be going smoothly. In all, at least 6.4 million people have already signed up for healthcare through the site. 

The last thing it needed was another screw up. 

On February 12th, Vator will be holding its first ever Splash Health event in Oakland, where speakers such as Tom Lee, Founder & CEO of One Medical, and Ryan Howard, Founder & CEO of Practice Fusion, will be talking about the state of the healthtech space, and where they think it is going (get your tickets here).

(Image source: healthcare.gov)

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