The federal Data Services Hub is the essential software component of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance portal for Obamacare, without which advance premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, and direct payments to insurers would not be possible. To the credit of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Healthcare.gov marketplace, which was built by 55 contractors and now serviced by dozens more, is, “one of the most complex pieces of software ever created for the federal government. It communicates in real time with at least 112 different computer systems across the country.”
In simplest terms, the federal Data Services Hub is a “routing tool that helps Marketplaces provide accurate and timely eligibility determinations. The Data Services Hub will verify data against information contained in already existing, secure and trusted Federal and state databases.” Because the Data Services Hub provides a single connection to federal, state, and private data sources in order to verify applicant information for income, citizenship, immigration status, and employer coverage, the Data Services Hub will necessarily be handling a large volume of very sensitive personal information. In the opinion of CMS, “the Hub and its associated systems have been built with state-of-the art business processes based on federal and industry standards.”
By rough estimate, CMS is spending approximately $500 million dollars over eight years to create and manage the federal Data Services Hub technology product. For the necessary cloud computing power to host the federal Data Services Hub data, CMS paid $55.4 million to Terremark Federal Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ). CMS has also contracted with the credit reporting bureau Equifax, Inc. to obtain personal information about applicant’s income and employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. Specifically, Equifax Workforce Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of the credit bureau Equifax, Inc., has a 5 year, $329.4 million contract to provide, “information [about individual health insurance applicants] that is more current than what is available on federal income tax returns.” Furthermore, contract documents show that Equifax must provide income information “in real time,” usually within a second of receiving a query from the federal government.
Equifax Workforce Solutions is also boldly pushing to further monetize its role as the exclusive employment history and income verification provider to the federal Data Services Hub. Thousands of employers have been solicited by Equifax’s marketing materials in a pitch enticing these companies to outsource their human resources income verification functions by touting Equifax’s connection to Obamacare. Removing all subtleties, Equifax’s marketing materials declare, “Employers who contribute data to The Work Number will PROVIDE A SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE TO THEIR EMPLOYEES applying for these benefits and tax credits, as income and employment will be VERIFIED INSTANTLY AND SECURELY at the point of application.” [emphasis in original] (Equifax Workforce Solutions – “Affordable Care Act-Verifications”)
Unparalleled in the consumer data industry, EWS has contractual agreements to receive individual income and employment data on employees at 75% of the Fortune 500 companies (e.g., Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo), 85% of the federal government workforce (e.g., Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services), educational institutions (e.g., Columbia University, Harvard Law), entire state governments (e.g., State of Arizona, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), and thousands of small businesses (e.g., Hassel Volvo of Glen Cove, New York; Stephens & Burrell Family Dentistry of Stone Mountain, Georgia).
The Work Number database operated by EWS has current payroll data for “approximately one-third of the working population in the United States and reflects employees at all wage levels.” (Testimony of Lynn Spellecy, General Counsel for EWS, Page 5, USHOR Committee on Energy & Commerce, 10/24/13). In short, “Employers who participate in The Work Number database provide their regular payroll information directly to [EWS] in an electronic feed, which becomes the foundation for [The Work Number] verification services.” (EWS Additional Questions for the Record, Lynn Spellecy, General Counsel for EWS, USHOR Committee on Energy & Commerce, 09/10/13)
In fact, the most sensitive personal employment and income information is available for sale through the EWS suite of products and services, including the following data: social security number, employer name and address, employee name and job title, job status (active or inactive), current pay rates, most recent hire date, total time of employment with employer, number of hours worked per pay period, wages by pay period (including week-by-week pay-stub information with up to 36 months history), IRS Form W-2 wage and tax information, all bank-verified deposits and assets, health care provider (insurance) coverage details, dental care provider (insurance) coverage details, unemployment claim records, and verifiers who have requested your data in the past 24 months.
To all consumers, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides a statutory right to request an annual file disclosure without charge from EWS, and all other nationwide specialty credit reporting agencies. Annual disclosure requests can be made to EWS online (http://www.theworknumber.com/Employees/DataReport/index.asp), by fax (1-877-879-8182), by mail (TALX Corporation, Attn: Employment Data Report, 1845 Borman Ct., Suite 337, St. Louis, Missouri, 63146), or by calling the toll-free telephone number at 1-866-604-6570. (See, 15 U.S.C. § 1681j(a)(1)(A), (C); 16 CFR § 610.3 – “Streamlined process for requesting annual file disclosures from nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies”; “Complaint for Civil Penalties, Permanent Injunction, and Other Equitable Relief” and “Stipulated Final Judgment” in United States of America (for the Federal Trade Commission) v. TALX Corporation. (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Civil Action No. 4:09-cv-01071) FTC File No. 072-3173).
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