Government official says health insurance marketplace will be ready

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A top official in the Obama Administration says the health insurance marketplace at www.healthcare.gov will be ready to open October 1 despite privacy concerns.

FOX 4's Meryl Lin McKean sat down Thursday with the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is responsible for the marketplace. Marilyn Tavenner said despite a report this week, there will be privacy protections in place so people can start shopping for insurance.

"We are absolutely ready for October 1," said Tavenner.

She responded to an inspector general's report of delays in testing the website's hub for privacy protection. In order to determine if people are eligible for subsidies, the website will ask for their social security number and income information.

Tavenner said she can assure people that their information will be private and secure.

"Yes, an important piece about that is the hub does not store any information," said Tavenner.

She says it will only route information to the Social Security Administration and IRS to verify it.

Tavenner came to Kansas City to promote the insurance marketplace especially in the Latino community. Thirty percent of uninsured Americans are Latino.

"We have a great deal of outreach and education to do," said Tavenner.

She said outreach and education are also needed to convince young, healthy adults that they need health insurance. Groups such as Freedom Works are urging people not to buy coverage and pay the penalty instead. In the first year, it will be $95 or one percent of your income, whichever is higher.

"We've always said it's a personal decision. We're gonna do everything we can to encourage people because we think health insurance, early prevention all lead to a higher, longer quality of life," said Tavenner.

She acknowledged there may be a "bit of sticker shock" for the currently uninsured when they see what the premiums will be. She added that lower-cost coverage -- so-called catastrophic coverage -- will be available for those under age 30.

Besides the website, the government has a call center for people wanting general information about the marketplace and coverage. The number is 1-800-318-2596.

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