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Should workers enrolling Californians in the state health insurance exchange be required to undergo background checks?

Who should be allowed to access California medical information? Should background screening be required?
Who should be allowed to access California medical information? Should background screening be required?
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In October, 20,000 workers hired by the state will pour out into communities to enroll Californians in the state’s new health insurance exchange, which is called Covered California. Workers won’t be government employees, but they will be handing quite a bit of personal information (including social security numbers, financial information, and tax records), and a debate has broken out as to whether these workers should undergo strict background checks before being put in a place where they have access to people’s important personal information.

On one side, Covered California and state insurance commissioner Dave Jones worry that not screening puts citizens at risk of potential large-scale identity theft and fraud, while critics argue that perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the goal of the program: signing up 1.4 million Californians within the year, many of whom don’t speak English, don’t have regular access to the Internet, and could potentially be disenfranchised by excluding their peers from the complicated process of explaining complex options.

Though state certified insurance agents go through an extensive background check and fingerprinting every couple years, the suggestion that these workers be fingerprinted as part of a potential background check has met with the most stern resistance. Some argue that the types of people who would benefit most from Covered California are the types who might be turned off by the potential legal implications of rigorous background screening.

Should these workers, who will handle many Californians most sensitive information be required to submit to a thorough background check? Or is it more important that we enroll as many people as possible, even if that means some amount of crime in the process?

Carla Saporta, Health Policy Director at the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial and economic justice

Pam Dixon, Executive Director at the World Privacy Forum - a non-profit organization focused on privacy issues based in San Diego