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Monday, December 16, 2013

Pete Sessions and Darrell Issa: Who are these Obamacare navigators? -- Dallas News, Opinion

To help the American people navigate the onerous and confusing requirements of signing up for Obamacare exchanges, the administration spent millions of taxpayer dollars to create the navigator program. Disturbingly, news reports from the last four weeks have highlighted numerous examples of fraudulent activity related to health navigators in Texas. So — who are these navigators and what is their role in Obamacare?

To help answer that question, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a field hearing Monday at the Charles Eisemann Center in Richardson. Implementation of the program — much like the rest of the law — is off to a rocky start. This hearing follows eight months of Oversight Committee investigation and will address concerns that Obamacare’s navigator program lacks basic federal guidelines to protect Americans’ private information, reports of fraud and what officials in Texas are doing about it.

Funded by grants of taxpayer dollars to nongovernment groups, navigators are allowed to ask Americans for confidential financial and personally identifiable information. This is concerning for a number of reasons.

First, the law does not bar — or even require screening for — convicted felons, including individuals convicted of identity theft or fraud. This is particularly dangerous because navigators may have access to applicants’ personally identifiable information, including Social Security number, date of birth, address, phone number and annual income. This poorly conceived program endangers families and individuals across the country by heightening the risk of identity theft or financial loss.

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.

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