Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. October 20, 2013

Activist says local police will have access to Obamacare database with private medical records and financial information

Part of the campaign to thwart the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, has involved discouraging people from signing up for health insurance, available for small businesses and individuals through federal and state marketplaces.

One group behind the push is Generation Opportunity, which created the ads showing "Creepy Uncle Sam" poised to play doctor. Its president, Evan Feinberg, warned in an Oct. 1 commentary in The Providence Journal that people who sign up will become part of the Federal Data Services Hub, "an enormous database of every participant’s private medical records, tax and financial info, legal history, and other intimate information."

"Local law enforcement, insurance companies, and innumerable federal agencies and low-level bureaucrats will have access to the Data Hub’s treasure trove of personal info," he said.

It's not surprising that some of these people would have access to the data. After all, low-level bureaucrats are processing the application and you are, after all, buying insurance from an insurance company. But the part about local law enforcement caught our eye.

Would signing up for Obamacare really give our local police the ability to know how much money we make, the terms of our divorce and when our Viagra prescription is due for refill?

PolitiFact National examined an element of the question last May when Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., received a Pants On Fire for saying the IRS is going to be "in charge" of "a huge national database" on health care that will include Americans’ "personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest secrets." PolitiFact found that the IRS isn't in charge and it's not a health care database.

The hub pulls limited data from other agencies to verify eligibility and determine how much an individual will actually pay for an insurance plan on the exchanges. For example, the Social Security Administration is asked to verify a person's Social Security number. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is asked to verify immigration status. The IRS confirms financial data to see if a person is eligible for a subsidy.

It's the same system that allows Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program "to query the government databases used today in the eligibility processes for many state and federal programs," said Brian Cook, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

What kind of data does it collect? Rhode Island's marketplace, HealthSource RI, sent us a copy of the application form.

It asks for a lot of financial information that, one would think, the data hub should be able to simply get from the IRS, such as how much money applicants have earned from investments, a pension or Social Security, or how much they are paying in alimony or student loans. (A shorter application is available for people who are not seeking a tax break to pay for their coverage.)

The system doesn't ask for -- and the database doesn't collect -- a person's medical records. The only medical information sought is whether an applicant is blind, disabled and, if pregnant, the due date.

Featured Fact-check

The only legal history information is a question about whether applicants are in jail and, if so, when they expect to be released.

So the "treasure trove" of information isn't as rich as Feinberg asserts. (The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services even insists that it's not a database, but we'll leave that for another fact check.)

But the key question is whether local law enforcement would have access to the information.

When we contacted Feinberg's office to ask for the source of that claim, spokesman David Pasch sent us to a section of the Federal Register that gives the government the right to release information to "any state or local governmental agency ... that has the authority to investigate potential fraud, waste or abuse" so such cases can be prosecuted.

The federal rules do not give local law enforcement unfettered access to the database.

When we raised the issue with Pasch, he acknowledged that the regulations didn't say that local police would have free access to the database and argued that Feinberg "did not say all contractors could look at whatever they want, whenever they want."

We disagree. Saying that law enforcement will have access to a "treasure trove" of personal information suggests that police would have broad access to that information, not just basic facts that the government would give to law enforcement to conduct a fraud investigation.

Patti Unruh, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said, "Local law enforcement would only receive access to personally identifiable information after submitting a specific request for such information to CMS and after CMS rigorously evaluated the request for information to ensure that it is legally permissible and is reasonably necessary to investigate, prosecute or combat fraud, waste or abuse."

Our ruling

Evan Feinberg of Generation Opportunity said,  "Local law enforcement ... will have access to the Data Hub’s treasure trove of personal info" in a database with "private medical records, tax and financial info, legal history, and other intimate information."

Not only is he making a huge stretch when he says the treasure trove includes private medical records and legal history -- with financial data, not so much -- he is stretching further to suggest that local police will have anything close to routine access to the data in the Hub.

Thus, the contention that signing up for Obamacare will allow a prying police chief to view your latest mammogram is False.

(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at [email protected]. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)

Our Sources, "Opting out of Obamacare a smart move for Millennials," Oct. 1, 2013, page A15., "The IRS is going to be ‘in charge" of "a huge national database’ on health care that will include Americans' ‘personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets,’ " May 20, 2013

Emails, Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman, HealthSource RI, Oct. 9-11, 2013, "Securing the Health Insurance Marketplace," Sept. 18, 2013, accessed Oct. 7, 2013

Emails, David Pasch, spokesman, Generation Opportunity, Oct. 7-8, 2013, "Notice to establish a new system of records," Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Federal Register Volume 78, Number 25, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, pp 8538-8542

Emails, Patti Unruh and Brian Cook, spokespersons, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Oct. 7-15, 2013


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by C. Eugene Emery Jr.

Activist says local police will have access to Obamacare database with private medical records and financial information

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up