Health and Human Services asked for comments about its website. It got them by the hundreds. Consumers and insurance agents say they were stymied, and one applicant said he and his wife were wrongly listed as incarcerated - then denied
Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began unveiling its effort to fix Healthcare.gov, the home for the federal insurance marketplace. Part of that was a blog post soliciting comments from folks who have tried the site.
"Most importantly, we want to hear from you, and make sure that your experience with HealthCare.gov is a positive one. If you have any comments, either complimentary or critical, please let us know by sharing your feedback at https://www.healthcare.gov/connect/. We've already heard so many stories of individuals getting health insurance for the first time, and we are dedicated to making that possible for all Americans."
The Obama administration has not always been transparent about Healthcare.gov: A case in point is how HHS has withheld the number of people who have been able to successfully enroll. But in this instance, the administration allowed comments to the blog post to be seen by all (after moderating them and removing identifying information). Commenters’ identities were not verified and they are identified by whatever name they entered.
As of yesterday afternoon, we counted more than 500 comments. My colleague Mike Tigas pulled them from the site, and I’ve been analyzing the feedback.
“Repeal Obamacare,” several commenters wrote, making political statements based on the website’s problems.
Some urged patience: “Turn off the TV and stop listening to the naysayers,” Darlene wrote. “Its [sic] better to wait patiently and get great health care than to get emotional and frustrated and wind up with NO healthcare...”
Others, like Kim, offered to help: “I have a home office and am VERY tech savvy. I would like to be able to help in whatever way I can.”
By and large, however, the feedback has been negative. While some comments root for the site’s failure, many are from people who’ve tried to use the site without success. Some pose specific questions; others voice general frustrations. Because their identities and contact information isn’t listed (for understandable reasons), there was no way to verify their stories.
The problems touch people from all over the country. The posts below have been trimmed for length, but the original grammar and spelling are used (even if they contain errors).
Wrongly Listed As Jailed
“Website said my wife and I were ineligible due to current incarceration. We have never been arrested in our lives, both 63!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Fred wrote on Oct. 21.
Health Problems Made Worse
“I have a pre-existing condition .... a-fib.....and actually had an attack after getting frustrated with this confusing mess,” Bill wrote on Oct. 22. (A-fib refers to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heartbeat.)
Daughter is Not a Daughter Anymore
“I am having difficulty with my account,” Joanna wrote on Oct. 22. “It appears that my daughter was added twice so that I now have two daughters with the same name and social security number. I am unable to delete one of them. Also, the drop down menu that relates to what relationship someone is to another is faulty. I choose that my husband is the father of our daughter and that my daughter is a dependant [sic] to me and my husband. What it actually shows though is that my daughter is a stepdaughter to her father and that my daughter is now both my husband and I's parent. “
“I can sign in ... but cannot see the plans available to me — they claim my identity has been compromised. So frustrating!” Rhonda wrote on Oct. 22.
Going in Circles
“I have been trying to get into the system since the beginning,” Marion wrote on Oct. 22. “I have created 3 different accounts and am not able to log into any of them. When I request the user ID or to reset the password it throws me back to the log in page where I can't login because it says I don't have an account. When I try to reset the password with the email I used it, I never get an email to validate my account. I won't let me create another account telling me I already have an account. I feel like I keep going around in circles. Will I ever be able to set up an account? “
“I've now filled out that same application multiple times and even though there are hitches and glitches, I do manage to get to the point where I should be able to shop,” wrote one person whose name is listed as “likebillmurrayingroundhogday, on Oct. 21. “However, once at that point, there is no place for me to shop! The system just kicks me back to starting the application again. It's like "Groundhog Day."
“After many attempts I did manage to set up an account with a log in and password,” Francine wrote on Oct. 23. “NOW when I'm about to get to the meat and potatoes and go shopping a red box pops up and says "you can only do one application per state". WTF? Several times I was able to find a page that asked me if I was a Florida resident with a yes and no button and it appears that after the site drops off my computer it moves this from yes to no. I can no longer find this page, so this site has BLOCKED me.”
Circular Security Questions
“I get an error message after I answer the security questions that say the answers can't be the same, but they aren't the same. If people are getting past this error message, I would like to know how,” Samara wrote on Oct. 20.
Name Not Unique
“I've been trying to create an account since program inception (October 1). I continually get a variety of crazy messages, the most recent being that I could not create an account because my first name, last name and email address are not unique!” Tom wrote on Oct. 20. “What the devil does that mean? Most people use their names in their email address, so it's never going to be "unique." I need health insurance for my 61-year-old wife and the Marketplace appears promising. Clean this mess up!”
Insurance Agents Stymied
“I am insurance agent also President of Insurance Agency (50+ Insurance Agents plus 30 employees),” John wrote on Oct. 21. “We have 1000's of customers who want to sign up for health insurance and most will be subsidized. We have tried everyday since 10-1-2013. Maybe 2 applications have been processed. I have spent well over 250K getting ready for the ACA roll-out. My agency has been writing individual and small group insurance for over 25 years. We have marketed the uninsured and lower income. We have held events to get pre-enrollment applications. We just want to help people get the insurance they need. What can you do to help me?”
Application Counselor Frustrated
“I am employed as a Certified Application Counselor in Scranton, Pennsylvania and I have not been able to successfully assist the approximately 50 people that visited me looking for assistance,” Suzanne wrote on Oct. 21. “I created an account for myself prior to October 1st to walk myself through the system and have not been able to successfully log in since October 1st. Needless to say, I am as frustrated as the consumers who visited me are. I hope the log in situation is fixed soon.”
ProPublica fellow Mike Tigas contributed to this report.
In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organised information quietly emerges to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups. Aadhaar is trying hard to make us believe that the UIDAI would fulfil the constitutional promise of economic equality
"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking” said George Patton, US General during World War II.
Indeed, “unfair share of highly educated people” in certain mega business enterprises, countries and automatic identification technologies based on digitalization of human biology is having a disruptive impact on human civilization and democratic rights.
After the adoption of National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by AK Antony, defence minister, is deliberating on the issue of resident identity cards to all usual residents of the country of age 18 years and above under the scheme of National Population Register (NPR). As per the terms of reference given to the GoM, it is supposed to “examine all aspects relating to the proposal for issuing resident identity cards to the usual residents of the country keeping in view all relevant issues and finalize its recommendations at an early date.” There is no news about what this GoM has done since its creation January 2013. It seems they are waiting for the judgement of the Supreme Court given the fact that Aadhaar/Unique Identification (UID) Number and NPR are one and the same as per the documents on record.
The creation of this GoM must be seen along with a letter of Ajit Seth, cabinet secretary, Government of India dated 18 July 2012, which was sent to all secretaries stating that “There is an urgent need to bring rich data assets into the public domain for the use by civil society for scientific, economic and developmental purposes.”
In an interview, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks informed Imran Khan about the grave act of omission and commission. Assange said, “…we discovered a cable in 2009 from the Islamabad Embassy. Prime minister Gilani and interior minister Malik went into the (US) embassy and offered to share National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) – and NADRA is the national data and registration agency database. The system is currently connected through passport data but the government of Pakistan is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometric system as the Chennai border crossing, where 30,000 to 35,000 people cross each day. This NADRA system is the voting record system for all voters in Pakistan. A front company was set up in the United Kingdom – International Identity Services, which was hired as the consultants for NADRA to squirrel out the NADRA data for all of Pakistan. What do you think about that? Is that a…? It seems to me that that is a theft of some national treasure of Pakistan, the entire Pakistani database registry of its people.” The interview is available here.
It must be noted that NPR is being prepared by C Chandramouli, census commissioner & registrar general of India, is meant to create resident identity cards is exactly like Pakistan’s version of biometric exercise for citizens’ identity card which was completed by NADRA, ministry of interior, Government of Pakistan and their database has been handed over to US Government.
Was NADRA made accountable for this theft of national treasure of Pakistan? Will census commissioner & registrar general of India be made accountable if “rich data assets” are stolen or sold? Has anyone been made accountable till date?
In an interview James Manyika, a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, and Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman explored the phenomenon of technological disruption, which is likely to have the greatest impact on economies, business models, and people. This interview was conducted in February 2013.
Eric corroborates what has been apprehended all along that “There are now firms and foundations building databases of DNA to use, to move to a model of individual diagnosis of disease, where you literally just press a button, the sequences occur, and it tells you what’s wrong. So the use of analytical tools in a historically analog world is a very big change.”
He prophetically states that we are entering into a situation where the computer knows, “Well, we kind of know what you care about.”
Eric Schmidt says, “We’re going, in a single lifetime, from a small elite having access to information to essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information. That has huge implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth.”
Eric underlines the existing situation of “a small elite having access to information”. He is making a prophesy that we are amidst a technological era, which is going to create a situation wherein “essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information.” This prophesy hides an essential pre-condition to the possible access to “all of the world’s information”. The pre-condition is purchasing capacity.
To reveal the true colours of such sophistry, paraphrasing George Orwell’s contention from his book, Animal Farm, in this context would not be inappropriate. All men did not have access to all the information in the past. But all men will soon have access to all the information if they can afford it. Essentially, all men are equal in the digital world if they can afford equality.
In the second part of his statement, the Google official is telling the official from McKinsey that when all the people in the world will have all the information then it have “implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth”.
Even if one takes this part of his statement on its face value, the core issue is that whenever either “a small elite” has access to information or all the people who can afford to have access to information there are implications for privacy, communications, security, human behaviour, information dissemination, censorship and governments.
Eric will have us believe that when the analog world of biology—how genes work, how diseases work is put in a digital framework, calculate for a while, do some machine learning on how things happen, these seemingly disruptive technologies will be able to make one become a better human being and predict what’s going to happen to human beings in terms of health etc.
While States and citizens are concerned about their rights and are resisting efforts to turn them into subjects of centralised powers through their opposition to National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the emergence of a regressive convergence economy based on databases and unregulated surveillance, biometric and electoral technologies remains largely unnoticed and unchallenged. Political clout of technology based companies seems to be creating a property based rights regime through financial surveillance making national boundaries redundant. But surprisingly, non Congress governments in states and at the centre are acting like unthinking obedient boys.
If one takes cognizance of the claim that “UID system is a civilian application of biometrics”1 and compares it with current practices, one finds that such a claim is quite misplaced. In the report there is reference to a Study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security to International Biometrics Group.2 Is it too difficult to comprehend the implications of the “civilian application” of a military tool?
In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups.
It has emerged that it all started rolling in the aftermath of a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers on 4 November 2008 and a meeting of the prime minister's council of the UID Authority on 12 August 2009, wherein it was decided that there was a “need for a legislative framework.” The legislative framework is unlikely to take birth but the citizens have been framed and biometrically profiled awaiting post dated endorsement from the legislatures.
The 13th Finance Commission has made a provision for an incentive of Rs100 per person (Rs400-Rs500 per family) to bribe citizens below the poverty line to register for the UID/Aadhaar and recommended a grant of Rs2,989.10 crore to be given to the state governments for the same. The deafening silence of the state governments appears to be influenced by this financial allocation.
As per an office memorandum dated 29 September 2009, “The main objective is to improve benefits service delivery, especially to the poor and the marginalized sections of the society. To deliver its mandate, the UID Authority proposes to create a platform to first collect the identity details and then to perform authentication that can be used by several government and private service providers.”3
The reference to “private service providers” is inexplicable for the work is meant to be an exercise for public purpose and for the poor and the marginalized. The promise of service delivery to the poor and the marginalised hides how it will enable access to profit for the IT industry and the biometrics industry. Such claims are quite insincere, misleading and factually incorrect. It reminds one of the pledges in the preamble of the Constitution of India; it will have us believe that UID Authority would fulfil the constitutional promise of economic equality. Such objectives are bad sophistry at best.
“Biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.”4 It is noteworthy that the cabinet secretary refers to “rich data assets” and government’s committee on Biometrics refers to database of citizens’ biometric data as “national assets.”
1 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 9, Version 1.0, December 2009
2 Study titled “Independent Testing of Iris Recognition Technology, Final Report, May 2005” referred in the report of the Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 56, Version 1.0, December 2009
3 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 25, Version 1.0, December 2009
4 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 5, Version 1.0, December 2009
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
The unified license would allow the Reliance group company to offer all telecom services including voice telephony under a single license
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL), a unit of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), said it received unified license for all 22 service areas (circles) across the country. RJIL is the first telecom operator in the country to get pan India unified license, the company said. However, there is still no word on the launching of services from the Reliance group.
In a released, RJIL said it signed an agreement for the unified licence with Department of Telecommunication (DoT)'s access service division on 21 October 2013 after submitting required documents and paying requisite entry fee.
"With grant of unified license, RJIL has migrated its existing ISP license along with broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum to the unified license with authorisation for all services, except global mobile personal communication by satellite service (GMPCS) under unified license in all service areas," the release said.
At 11.55am, RIL was trading marginally up at Rs884.7 on the BSE, while the 30-share benchmark was marginally down at 20,687.