Obamacare navigators in the spotlight in Texas
Recent revelations regarding some Obamacare navigators in Texas have spurred Rep. Darrell Issa to bring his oversight committee to the Lone Star state to hold hearings.
HHS Secretary Sebelius took to the pages of the Dallas Morning News to criticize Issa and the GOP for investigating why the federal government didn't vet the navigators, thus allowing convicted felons access to consumers' personal information:
Kathleen Sebelius went to bat for Obamacare navigators in an op-ed prior to a hearing led by Darrell Issa investigating the people designated to promote the health-care law as "navigators." She accused the House Oversight Committee chairman of holding a field hearing in Dallas "designed to stifle, intimidate and impugn the reputation of people who have been working hard to help their fellow Texans get covered."
In the Dallas Morning News, Sebelius urged Republicans on the committee to stop "demonizing, demoralizing or deterring" navigators, praising the navigators for their efforts. She wrote navigators are "not paid to sell insurance," but to assist people in learning more about the law and its benefits.
"Those I've met are dedicated, civic-minded Americans who have opened their hearts to their neighbors, because they want to help," Sebelius said.
Issa shot back with his own op-ed:
Issa offered his own op-ed, along with Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, in which he highlighted "numerous examples of fraudulent activity" associated with navigators in the state. He justified the investigation and hearings into navigators by pointing to instances of insufficient training, security risks, a lack of oversight, and organizations' receiving taxpayer-funded grants.
"This hearing, one of a series of hearings investigating the flawed implementation of Obamacare, strives to get the answers that the American people deserve about Obamacare's navigator program," Issa and Sessions wrote.
Issa questioned why the administration issued no guidelines for hiring navigators:
In letters, interviews with administration officials, hearings and reports, Congress has repeatedly asked the administration: Why has the federal government failed to issue proper consumer protection guidelines for Obamacare's navigators? Even as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted before Congress that the lack of federal requirements raises a "possible" problem, the administration has continued to call common-sense safeguards "cumbersome."
Second, navigators are only required to take a five- to 20-hour online training course and pass a quiz that they can take as many times as needed. The lack of sufficient training for navigators stands in stark contrast to the requirements placed upon health care underwriters whose job it is to help people enroll in health insurance plans. The American people deserve to know why the administration believes that inadequately trained navigators are qualified to help guide them through such an important process as signing up for health care.
Finally, the lack of federal oversight of the navigator program has already led to reports of improper and illegal behavior, including two instances in North Texas. In Dallas, a navigator recommended that an applicant lie about his income in order to qualify for additional subsidies to lessen the costs of his health care plan. In Irving, a part-time receptionist who worked at a navigator center encouraged an individual to lie about his tobacco use to keep his premiums down.
Despite concerns of inadequate training, navigators have been educating Americans about the health exchanges and facilitating enrollment since Oct. 1. Fortunately, states such as Texas have proposed rules that will protect Americans' private information by requiring health navigators to pass background checks and complete additional privacy training. Proper consumer privacy protection guidelines should be a priority for this administration, particularly in a program like Obamacare that requires Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine for noncompliance.
While President Barack Obama and other allies of Obamacare continue to publicly tout the law, they have done too little to address serious problems that come with it. This hearing, one of a series of hearings investigating the flawed implementation of Obamacare, strives to get the answers that the American people deserve about Obamacare's navigator program.
I suppose it shouldn't surprise us that an administration that so cavalierly violated Americans' privacy by allowing the NSA to scoop up vast amounts of personal data would see protecting that data from navigators to be "cumbersome." Fortunately, Congress and individual states are trying to rectify that situation by developing minimum standards for the navigators.
It's probably not enough. But it's better than what the administration was proposing.