House panel report critical of Obamacare navigators

Dec. 16, 2013 at 6:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A Republican-led U.S. House panel accused Affordable Care Act navigators of errors and risking privacy, but the ranking Democrat called it more obstruction.

The navigators under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, are responsible for helping consumers enroll in health plans.

Documents released with the report contended the navigators -- designated under the Affordable Care Act to help consumers enroll in health plans -- have been giving enrollees misinformation, and haven't done enough to protect consumers' health information, Social Security numbers, yearly income and other tax information, The Hill reported.

"Documents call into question the effectiveness of the Navigator program and the Obama administration's ability to safeguard consumer information," the committee report concluded.

Some of the navigators also "encouraged consumers to commit tax fraud by under-reporting income in order to qualify for Obamacare's health insurance subsidies," the report said.

The report, issued by the House Oversight Committee led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also said some navigators violated rules by mailing in consumers' paper applications instead of the applicants posting them as required by the healthcare law.

"This partisan and recycled staff report is another attempt by Republicans to block the Affordable Care Act and impugn the integrity of individuals working diligently to help millions of Americans get quality, affordable health care, some for the first time in their lives," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, told United Press International in an email.

"The focus of today's field hearing is on a handful of people who everyone agrees have no place in the navigator program, instead of the much more significant problem that Texas has refused to expand its Medicaid program, which would help millions of residents in a state with the highest number of uninsured in the nation. I hope the Committee will get its priorities straight and focus on helping people in their daily lives."

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said navigators weren't any different from Medicare counselors who have "operated effectively for years."

"We take any alleged impropriety seriously and take immediate action in cases where navigators have failed to live up to their responsibilities," Peters told the Hill in an email. "This is just the latest attempt to try to prevent Americans from accessing the quality, affordable coverage available to them under the healthcare law."

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also ripped the report, accusing the GOP committee chairman of trying to undermine the law.

The Issa report was released in conjunction with a hearing the committee had in Dallas, called "Obamacare implementation: Who are the Navigators?"

Other field meetings conducted by Issa's committee have been criticized for the lack of witnesses who may speak favorably about the ACA.

"What opponents of the new law could not do legislatively, at the ballot box, or even by shutting down the federal government, they're now trying to do through other means," Sebelius said in a commentary in the Dallas Morning News. "Case in point is Monday's congressional 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."

Issa announced Friday that an ACA contractor would comply with a subpoena he issued, despite efforts by the administration and some Democrats to keep the documents out of his hands, the Hill said.

The Obama administration and Cummings have questioned Issa's credibility, saying has displayed a "reckless pattern" of leaking confidential information in such a manner that promotes "inaccurate" media coverage -- which Issa disputes.

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